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Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 3) The One Kyushu Project Targeting PR on Kyushu’s attractions at five countries to overcome reputational damage rom the Kumamoto earthquakes Muneo Wakabayashi Overseas Representative Kyushu Tourism Media Center Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization [Date of Issue: 31/January/2017 No.0262-0263-1030]

Date of Issue: 31/January/2017

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 3)
The One Kyushu Project
Targeting PR on Kyushu’s attractions at five countries to overcome reputational damage from the Kumamoto earthquakes

Muneo Wakabayashi
Overseas Representative
Kyushu Tourism Media Center
Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization

The April 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes stopped tourists from coming not only to Kumamoto Prefecture but to Kyushu as a whole. The One Kyushu Project is designed to promote Kyushu’s appeal to overseas consumers and overcome that reputational damage.

On April 14 and 16, 2016, Kumamoto Prefecture and Oita Prefecture were struck by two massive earthquakes. With a maximum seismic intensity scale of over 7, these quakes destroyed more than 8,300 houses. The stone walls of Kumamoto Castle crumbled, Aso Shrine’s tower gate was destroyed, and the Great Aso Bridge collapsed. The transport network too suffered major damage. A dedicated recovery effort saw expressways and the Kyushu Shinkansen returned to operation almost immediately, but National Highway 57 and the Hohi Main Line remain impassable (as at January 2017).

In addition to this physical damage, the tourism industry too was heavily impacted.

Figure 1: No. of foreigners directly entering Japan from Kyushu (first half 2016)
Impact of the Kumamoto earthquakes on Kyushu tourism

Table 1: Reservations after Golden Week through to the end of September in Kyushu’s various prefecturesFrom immediately after the Kumamoto earthquakes, Japanese-style inns and hotels not just in Kumamoto and Oita but across Kyushu suffered a string of cancellations. Fukuoka Airport, the air gateway into Kyushu, and Kokura and Hakata Stations, the land gateways, were unaffected by the quakes, and yet they too received a huge number of cancellations. Reputational damage was at work.

When the media covers the quakes, it shows photos and videos of affected areas. This is probably unavoidable, but observing such scenes does have a psychological impact on people. Many look at the media images and decide to put their trip to Kyushu on hold, or decide not to go because they think that the locals must be too snowed under with recovery work to try to operate their businesses as well. The vast majority of tourist spots in Kyushu were undamaged, and locals there were desperate to get in as many tourists as possible, but the above concerns saw cancellations continue to rise.

The cancellations across all of Kyushu following the quakes forced us to recognize the interdependence of Kyushu’s tourist areas. This table shows the status of reservations in Kyushu’s various prefectures from May 22 after Golden Week through to September, revealing major slumps compared to the same period the previous year not just in quake-damaged Kumamoto and Oita but in all Kyushu’s prefectures. Because the quakes occurred just before the major Golden Week holiday, the tourist industry received a huge number of cancellations for a long holiday which would normally have brought in big money. Some operators worried that if the impact continued through to the summer holidays, their next big earning period, they would not survive the summer.

To repair that reputational damage, the Visit Kyushu Special Campaign was launched, offering discounts on accommodation in Kyushu through 2016. Raising high hopes in Kyushu, the initiative was organized by the Japan Tourism Agency, which earmarked 18 billion yen from its reserve for that purpose.

Reputational damage counter-strategy: Focus on an outsider perspective

However, discounts alone are insufficient to win people back once they have been put off. When people believe that Kyushu is dangerous, or that the transport network has been disrupted and there are many places that can’t be reached, you can only change their minds by convincing them that travel in Kyushu is in fact safe.

One means to that end has been a project designed to market Kyushu’s attractions to other Asian countries as a reputational damage counter-strategy. Put together as part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s “Project for Expanding Consumption in the Kyushu Region by Conveying its Attractiveness to Other Countries”—for which METI put aside 2.02 billion yen from its reserve—the idea was to seek out goods and services originating in Kyushu and create TV and video content to advertise the appeal of Kyushu’s various regions to Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand through local influencers, local media and social media. JTB Kyushu was subcontracted for this 1.0 billion yen project, using television, newspapers, the Internet, and social media in the above countries, from which the bulk of Kyushu’s visitors come, to portray Kyushu’s attractions via video, photos, and blog posts.

The name “One Kyushu Project” was chosen to reflect the fact that the whole Kyushu tourism industry was affected by the Kumamoto quakes, and that the tourism industries of each of Kyushu’s prefectures are mutually dependent.

I am the Deputy Director and Overseas Representative at the Kyushu Tourism Media Center, established within the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization in June, and because of my experience in planning and producing the news program “World Business Satellite” for TV Tokyo, as well as establishing and operating the station’s New York branch, I was asked to act as producer for the One Kyushu Project.

Getting information out there to repair reputational damage

The One Kyushu Project is a large-scale cross-Kyushu PR campaign targeting five Asian countries, and our central focus in planning and executing that campaign was on an outsider perspective.

While it’s easy to say that Kyushu is fine, that message is not very convincing coming from someone from Kyushu—it tends to sound self-congratulatory or self-serving. Coming from an outsider though, it becomes much more persuasive. And the most persuasive message of all is when credible individuals from the five target countries travel around Kyushu and say how much they enjoyed it, or that they want to go to Kyushu, or that the quakes don’t seem to have impacted much on tourist areas. It is extremely important to impress on tourists from overseas that Japan as a country which frequently experiences earthquakes and other natural disasters has become skilled at disaster recovery and that we have a social cohesiveness that enables us to overcome adversity together, as well as excellent infrastructure.

The One Kyushu Project was planned with these aspects in mind. We exploited the many diverse forms of media available today, including film, TV programs, Internet video distribution, newspapers, blogs, and social media. Because we needed to go further than creating video and information content and ensure that our content was seen by as many people as possible, we had to secure media channels. Because media penetration is not uniform across the five countries, that meant adapting our strategy according to the particular local media situation.

One Kyushu Project website https://one-kyushu.com/

We set the website up to be read in six languages—simplified and traditional Chinese, Korean, Thai, English, and Japanese—on the grounds that people are most convinced by feedback from visitors to Kyushu offered in their native language.

We didn’t just have Japanese people create our information and visual content. A Thai TV station made a program in which a Thai reporter went to interview the Kumamon mascot at the Kumamoto Prefectural Government offices. A group of 12 teachers and students from the Beijing Film Academy, a state-operated institution specializing in tertiary education for film and television production, travelled around Kyushu for 12 days, filming their impressions and putting these up on Web media in China. Influential bloggers from our five target countries—each with more than one million followers at home—visited Kyushu and posted their impressions on blogs and other social media. Tokyo-stationed journalists from Germany, Italy, America, Korea, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong visited Kyushu and reported back in their respective newspapers, magazines, and TV spots. The theme was Kyushu as seen, tasted, experienced, and recorded by outsiders travelling to this part of the country.

Our China campaign

I don’t have enough space to cover all the elements of the One Kyushu Project here, so I’ll limit myself to our China campaign.

China has become a world leader in Web media, as well as the biggest presence. In June 2016, the number of Internet users reached 700 million, more than half of China’s population. Mobile phones are the means by which 92.5 percent of users access the Internet, with 170 million—one in four—accessing the Internet only through their phones. More than 500 million Chinese Internet users watch videos on the Internet, and 440 million watch videos on their phones. China has more than 450 million Internet shoppers. Internet videos have surpassed TV broadcasting, while Internet shopping is outstripping store sales. In terms of media advertising, the situation is quite different from Japan, where public and private broadcasters have national broadcasting networks and the Internet trails behind. Our China strategy was therefore as shown in this table.

Summary of China information campaign (Language: simplified Chinese)
“Fresh Journeys” merits special mention. Ten episodes have been released, with the first visiting an owl cafe and an iron pan pot-sticker restaurant and the tenth going to Shirakawa Onsen and Takeo Onsen. As at January 17, 2017, total online views had topped 10 million. Apart from the first episode, which has had 900,000 views, all the episodes have been viewed more than one million times.

Table 2: No. of views of Kyushu series of Chinese Internet program “Fresh Journeys” (as at January 17, 2017)
We also combined multiple media types for our PR campaigns in the other four countries, maintaining that crucial focus on an outsider perspective by having influential local individuals and institutions impart information in the local language.

Beating the quakes

Thanks to initiatives such as the Visit Kyushu Special Campaign and the One Kyushu Project, as well as tourist industry efforts, the number of international tourists visiting Kyushu in 2016 slumped heavily in May after the quakes but is ultimately expected to have been around 3.7 million, topping the 2015 figure.

Figure 2: No. of foreigners directly entering Japan from Kyushu (2016)
The recovery still has a long way to go. Because the Visit Kyushu Special Campaign will end in 2017, there is concern about a possible slump in the demand triggered by that campaign. Tourism is a key industry in Kyushu, supporting a wide range of peripheral industries, and we will need to sustain proactive and effective international outreach based on the experience of the last several months.

Through that experience, we were able to identify many areas of interest to international visitors. In any business, customer satisfaction is the top priority. The goal of the tourism industry is to make tourists happy, so we need to learn more about what tourists find interesting.

What we discovered from the Kumamoto quakes was that the impact of the quakes was not limited to one prefecture but rather spread across Kyushu’s entire tourist industry. In other words, the tourism industries of Kyushu’s various prefectures are mutually dependent on each other. This was a huge insight. The name “One Kyushu Project” was chosen out of this recognition of Kyushu as one region and the desire to promote Kyushu’s attractions as a package. Moving ahead, Kyushu’s prefectures need to continue working together to promote our amazing tourist spots as “one Kyushu.”

(original article : Japanese)
(For the Japanese version of this article)

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