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IIST e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 4) Attracting International Visitors with Interactive Tourism Developing a new style of tourism in Japan’s Shangri-La Koji Deo Deputy Secretary-General Nishi-Awa Tourism Association Sora-no-Sato [Date of Issue: 28/February/2017 No.0264-1034]

Date of Issue: 28/February/2017

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 4)
Attracting International Visitors with Interactive Tourism
Developing a new style of tourism in Japan’s Shangri-La

Koji Deo
Deputy Secretary-General
Nishi-Awa Tourism Association Sora-no-Sato

In the remote mountains of western Tokushima, a new experiment is underway to use time spent interacting with local communities in a village space as a new local resource for community development and transformation of the industrial structure.


Interaction as a new local resource

Engaging with the lifestyle and world view of the mountain folk who have built the hamlet community of Sora-no-Sato high up in the mountains offers visitors a rare opportunity to rethink their own values and experience an enlightening sense of fulfilment.

Traditional rural culture and customs remain deeply embedded in the upland settlements dotted round the Nishi-Awa area in western Tokushima, and interaction with Nishi-Awa locals has been giving visitors insight into and empathy with the wisdom of mountain life.

As a candidate organization in the government’s drive to create 100 Japanese DMOs (Destination Management/Marketing Organizations), the Nishi-Awa Tourism Association Sora-no-Sato is utilizing this enlightening sense of fulfilment as a new local resource for community development, promoting interaction between locals and visitors to create a time and space that enables both sides to share a sense of joy and wonder.

In 2008, a council of government and private-sector representatives set up Sora-no-Sato as a platform to establish the Nishi-Awa/Mt. Tsurugi/Yoshino River tourism zone as the area’s tourism brand. Sora-no-Sato has since been developing community-based travel products, engaging in promotion activities, and hosting educational trips, etc.

The national government’s “Tourism Vision to support the Future of Japan” initiative, designed to take Japan’s tourism to new heights, has set the target of increasing the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 40 million by 2020.

Local governments too have been actively working on tourism-based regional development, focusing on tourist-drawing strategies that are grounded in local circumstances and ensuring that development is approached in a way that engages local residents and enables them to empathize with visitors.

Innovation through diverse partnerships

Having started out hosting educational trips, as of 1998, Sora-no-Sato also began organizing mountain hamlet experiences as graduation trips with the aim of encouraging interaction between cities and mountain villages. The initiative has now expanded across the whole Nishi-Awa tourism zone (Mima City, Miyoshi City, Tsurugi Town and Higashi-Miyoshi Town), with around 4,000 students taking part in farm home stays every year.

Designed to encourage interaction, Nishi-Awa graduation trips include rafting trips on the Yoshino River as well as experiences of mountain life in the midst of nature, such as picking tea and digging potatoes, with their appeal lying in the personal interaction which students enjoy with their host families, unlike the usual farming and harvesting experiences.

Programs for experiencing daily life have been developed not just for educational trips, but also for foreign visitors to Japan, and Sora-no-Sato is promoting these as a way of attracting inbound tourists to the area.

In other words, rather than tourism operators alone organizing schemes to attract tourists, Sora-no-Sato is gradually expanding the scope for tourist engagement by bringing on board the whole community, including a wide range of farming households and local residents.

Transforming the local industrial structure through the business of sharing joy and wonder

The concept shared by the Nishi-Awa area is to create an attractive community that will link to the next generation.

Interaction with villagers in this pristine mountain setting has drawn a lot of interest from foreign travelers in Europe and America in particular, and from 2013 through to the present, the American nature science magazine National Geographic Traveler has organized six expeditions to Japan every year that cover the Tokyo-Osaka-Kyoto “golden route” along with two days in Nishi-Awa.

For visitors from America, Europe and Australia, interaction with local people is one of the key narratives they are seeking from their rural experience—the illuminating value of a time and space to share joy and wonder in a serendipitous moment.

This kind of experience offers new possibilities and potential as a form of local business targeting not just foreign visitors but also domestic educational trips, such as university seminar and technical school camps, as well as company CSR activities looking to create new value from rural communication rhythms.

The space of remote mountain hamlets is creating a resource not previously offered by tourism—joy and wonder—and adding momentum to efforts by the Nishi-Awa farming community to add value to agriculture as the area’s primary industry through sixth-order industrialization (promoting agricultural revitalization by combining traditional primary industry with processing, distribution and sales to produce synergies).

With the graying of society and birth rate decline proceeding particularly rapidly in remote mountain communities, adding value to industry and the creation of “interaction business” are being used to transform the industrial structure, create jobs and encourage permanent residence.

Wide-ranging partnerships

In Nishi-Awa, a government-private sector council comprising the two cities and two towns of the area (Western Comprehensive Prefectural Citizens’ Bureau), tourism operators, commercial associations, transport operators, and NPOs, etc., functions as a space for consensus-building, while Sora-no-Sato implements schemes as the local DMO.

Having government and the private sector work closely on creating a tourism-based regional development strategy and handle the actual land operation and promotion work based on a shared vision has become a real strength for the Nishi-Awa area.

As a result of prefectural and local government representatives joining private-sector representatives on sales trips overseas, the number of tourists from Hong Kong has shot up five times over the last four years to around 5,000 people, while the number of foreign overnight visitors reached 15,000 in 2015, growing 15 times in eight years.

To develop experience-based tourism as a new resource geared to diversifying tourism styles, including the area’s unique traditional culture and natural environment and interaction with locals, Sora-no-Sato is forming a wide range of partnerships with not only tourism operators but also farmers, businesspeople, manufacturers, and local residents.

The steady stream of visitors to the remote mountains of Nishi-Awa is due to the strong partnership developed between private operators and government, as well partnerships in other areas, identifying local resources and creating new value.

In terms of inbound tourism, we are broadening the range of our activities by participating in a National Tourism Zones Promotion Council project that promotes 13 tourism zones to the world based on the joint concept of “Undiscovered Japan.”

On the community development front, we have used the tourism zone framework to build a network among local residents for an experiential program called Awakoi, or “Intense Awa,” for the intensity of time spent in Nishi-Awa. In addition, we are actively developing partnerships on a wide-ranging basis that includes outreach to different fields, such as holding study group meetings and symposia with boards of education and local schools, organizing studies and symposia on traditional farming methods, and accommodating university and technical school classes.

As the population ages, Nishi-Awa is turning away from the expansion of agricultural and forestry production to move actively instead on areas offering high added value, such as identifying local organic goods produced using traditional sustainable farming methods and reviving the cultivation of the area’s many native cereals, as well as creating “food and agriculture scenic spots” aimed at interaction-based distribution (i.e., consumers who recognize this value visiting local villages to eat and to purchase souvenirs).

What many visitors to Japan want from Nishi-Awa is not hospitality and top-grade service but rather the chance to interact with local people and slip inside the daily lives of rural Japanese. I am convinced that the Nishi-Awa brand as a national tourism zone is the creation of time and space for visitors and locals to share a serendipitous moment.

https://nishi-awa.jp/soranosato
https://www.undiscovered-japan.com/

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


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