The UNWTO demystified the Japanese market, and
TripAdvisor offered deeper insight into one of the world’s largest
travel website during the 12th Lanith Symposium, “Marketing &
Promoting Lao Tourism”, held at Lao Airlines’ Vientiane
headquarters on Friday, 4 April, with 70-plus delegates seeking
ways to boost the country’s tourism revenue.
Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism
Saly Phimphinith chaired the Lao National Institute of Tourism
and Hospitality (Lanith) event supported by Luxembourg Development
Cooperation, and stressed that though arrival numbers grew some
20% year-on-year in 2013 to close in on 4 million, the average
expenditure per person/per trip of about US$160 lagged far behind
the international average.
“We need to attract more big spenders, and
hopefully this Lanith Symposium will help find a way to greater
tourism expenditures,” Mr Phimphinith said.
Shintaro Hori, Deputy Chief of the UNWTO’s
Asia-Pacific Support Office took the podium to explain how Laos
can tap the lucrative Japanese market. He pointed out that
Japanese visitor numbers to Laos are comparable to those from
France, Korea, and the US. They stay an average of five to six
days, and spend about US$400 per day.
Mr Hori said, “There is room for improvement (in
growing arrivals),” stating that direct flights from Japan would
increase the numbers, as Japanese travellers tend to visit
destinations that are quick and easy to access. “However, Japanese
airlines need to be convinced they will fill the seats,” he
Mr Hori briefly discussed the demographics of
Japanese tourists visiting Laos. UNWTO statistics show a trend
towards active, high-income seniors and independent women
travellers between 30 and 50 years of age coming to the country.
Mr Hori zeroed in on five areas that Japanese
travellers require in a destination, and what Laos can do to
satisfy these requests, which centre on fostering an atmosphere
aimed at independent travellers.
Among the most challenging are creating a
barrier-free environment for seniors and establishing an emergency
medical system. Providing simple access to Japanese-language
information takes less effort. “Establish an FIT environment to
make it easy for independent travellers,” Mr Hori suggested,
noting that signs, city maps, and information on public transport
in Japanese would make a good start.
“The Japanese market also likes unique
experiences and destinations. They want more than city sites in
Vientiane and Luang Prabang,” Mr Hori said. Activities such as
elephant training and village visits to experience different
cultures attract the Japanese, but he emphasized that
well-informed, Japanese-speaking guides are essential. “Tour
operators are losing a lot of Japanese business just because they
TripAdvisor Destination Marketing Senior Sales
Manager, APAC, Sarah Mathews, then showed how the top social media
platform for posting tourism-related reviews goes a long way in
influencing independent travellers’ decisions, while providing
restaurants, hotels, attractions, tour operators’ activities, and
government tourism boards with an effective avenue for promoting
their businesses and destinations.
“TripAdvisor is a community for travellers to
tell their story,” Ms Mathews said, pointing out that 90 users
contribute a review every minute, and the site gets 260 million
unique visitor hits each month. She added that TripAdvisor also
opens the door for the travel trade to talk to this community at
no cost by creating and managing a listing.
Key to reaping benefits from a TripAdvisor
listing is to respond to both positive and negative reviews.
“People love hearing from (hotel) general managers...and responses
sway people’s decisions.” Ms Mathews said. “Some 78% (of
TripAdvisor’s users) say this makes them believe the hotel cares,
while 84% say responses to negative reviews increase their
confidence,” as they show hotels care.
Mr Saly summed up the event by stating it was
“filled with plenty of useful information, and we all learned a
lot about promoting Laos from the speakers.” He concluded, “There
are still many things to do to better market Laos tourism...These
Lanith Symposia provide a good platform for public and private
sector cooperation, and we need to work together to promote the
country’s tourism and raise revenue.”
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