ANA’s Travel Unit Targeting Independent Chinese

TOKYO (Nikkei)–ANA Sales Co., a travel agency owned by All Nippon Airways Co., is scrambling to cater to people from China, particularly those independent travelers who are expected to arrive in droves now that Tokyo has decided to issue tourist visas to wealthy Chinese.

Chinese tourists are coming to Japan in increasing numbers, traveling to such destinations as this ski resort in Hokkaido.

Chinese are heading overseas in record numbers, providing some comfort to the recession-hit global tourism industry.

ANA Sales has partnered with a Chinese travel agency to develop about 20 new tours tailored to such independent travelers; the plan is to market them in that country through local agencies.

One of the tours is a five-day trip around eastern Hokkaido, where a small bus takes the visitors to spots like crystal-clear Lake Mashu and the Abashiri Prison Museum. The package includes meals featuring popular Japanese fare such as sushi and crab dishes. ANA flights are used to bring the customers from China to Hokkaido via Tokyo.

Meanwhile, a four-day tour to the city of Hakodate offers a splendid night view of the lights from the eponymous nearby mountain, as well as a sightseeing bus from Hakodate to the capital city of Sapporo.

“We have planned these packages based on Hokkaido tours that have proved popular among tourists from Taiwan and Hong Kong,” said the ANA Sales executive in charge of Japan tours.

Tailored treatment

Typically, group tours in Japan for Chinese tourists follow the so-called “Golden Route” of Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and the western Kansai region where Kyoto and Osaka are located.

In contrast, ANA Sales is expanding its product offerings and options to meet the diverse needs and tastes of independent Chinese travelers.

One new option allows the visitors to tour Tokyo and neighboring areas in a hired car with a translator. One possibility for those who book the service for 12 hours is shopping at the Gotemba Premium Outlets complex after sightseeing in nearby Hakone, a popular hot springs resort outside of Tokyo.

Such options are designed to offer a more personalized, flexible experience than is available on group tours.

ANA Sales is taking various steps to make Chinese tourists feel welcomed and comfortable. In July, the firm will launch a service to send Chinese-speaking employees to greet tourists at four airports, including Narita and Kansai.

The company is asking its partner hotels to put up helpful signs in Chinese. Such a move may be welcomed by independent tourists who are traveling without the help of bilingual tour guides.

In China, Japanese firms are not permitted to market tour packages directly to Chinese consumers. As such, ANA Sales has been approaching local travel agencies in hopes of partnering up.

Big opportunity

The explosion of foreign travel among China’s 1.3 billion people offers an opportunity that the international tourism industry is loathe to pass up.

While overall foreign arrivals to Japan have fallen sharply amid the global recession, the inflow of Chinese tourists has continued to rise. In the first four months of this year, some 380,000 Chinese visited Japan, up 5% year on year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

For ANA Sales, domestic tours for foreigners account for only a fraction of overall revenue. The company hopes to raise the ratio fivefold come 2012 by attracting more Chinese tourists.

Meanwhile, ANA Sales is also bolstering its China packages for Japanese. In April, the company once again began offering Sichuan Province tours that include panda viewing and a trip to the Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve. This offering had been suspended for almost a year after the terrible earthquake of May 2008; the package is now priced nearly 30% lower than before.

“China tours have traditionally been popular mainly among older Japanese, but we are now seeing more young women join in,” said an executive at the company’s Tokyo branch.

In March, ANA Sales launched new package tours to Beijing and Shanghai that feature business class plane seats.

Nearly half of ANA’s international flights involve Chinese destinations. ANA Sales is trying to capitalize on such group assets to more fully tap China, which is expected to play an increasingly important role in the Japanese tourism industry.

If ANA Sales’ new package tours indeed prove a hit, one additional benefit could be a reduction in the number of vacant seats on ANA’s international flights.

–Translated from an article by Nikkei staff writer Yuta Asomura

(The Nikkei Business Daily June 22 edition)

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