Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 5)
Here Comes Setouchi!
Here Comes Setouchi!
The Inland Sea, SETOUCHI Tourism Authority
As a Japanese DMO (Destination Management/Marketing Organization) frontrunner, the Setouchi DMO aims to do much more than simply attract visitors to Setouchi. What is the DMO’s mission?
Setouchi is on its way up. Where some 500,000 foreign visitors stayed in the seven prefectures making up the Setouchi area (Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Kagawa and Ehime) in the first quarter of 2015, this had climbed to around 820,000 by the second quarter of 2016, with Setouchi experiencing a more rapid rate of increase in the number of foreign travelers than the national average as a growing number of visitors enjoy all that Setouchi has to offer. The wider context is also changing to shine a real spotlight on Setouchi, with an increasing number of television programs and magazines, etc., running features on the area.
Setouchi’s beauty has been recognized by international travelers for centuries. Thomas Cook, the father of modern tourism, said “I have seen almost every lake … but this surpasses each of them, and combines the best features of them all in one,” and the German geographer and Silk Road “godfather” Ferdinand von Richthofen echoed this praise, claiming that “You could not find more elegant scenery extending over such a wide area anywhere else in the world. In the future, this area will be highly valued as one of the world’s most appealing places, attracting many people” (von Richthofen, China, Ergebnisse eigner Reisen und darauf gegrundeter Studien).
Imagine gazing at more than 700 islands, large and small, near and far, folding endlessly over each other on a tranquil, mirror-like sea, and you will have some idea of the beauty of the Setouchi archipelago.
Since ancient times Setouchi has also flourished as a marine transport hub, and those layers of history remained etched across the area’s towns and landscapes, enabling the visitor to experience a depth of history beyond the scope of textbooks.
Setouchi is also rich in food assets, including seafood spawned in the sea’s infinitely various tides, the citrus fruit which are the blessing of a mild climate, and Japanese sake made from the delicious water brought down from the mountains, making the area very individual in its various attractions even within Japan.
Making Setouchi Japan’s biggest tourist brand
However, recognizing that adequate advantage is not being taken of Setouchi’s great value, The Inland Sea, SETOUCHI Tourism Authority and the Setouchi Brand Corporation spearheaded the creation of the Setouchi Destination Management/Marketing Organization (DMO) to bring the spotlight back on to Setouchi’s regional resources and connect the various attractions around the region to raise the profile and brand power of Setouchi and make it into a world-class sustainable tourism destination. The greatest feature of the Setouchi DMO is the way in which it is a combined effort between the SETOUCHI Tourism Authority, which conducts promotions to create tourism demand, and the Setouchi Brand Corporation, in which financial institutions take the lead in providing the capital and management support for regional industrial promotion (product and service development). To my knowledge, there are no other cases in Japan or indeed the world of financial institutions participating in DMOs. Thanks to this function, we launched accommodation-type luxury cruises around the Inland Sea in 2017, and progress is also being made on a plan to renovate old farmhouses and convert them into accommodation.
The Setouchi DMO
The Setouchi DMO Mission
The Setouchi DMO needs to take the helm in managing the operation of tourist areas from a bird’s eye perspective so as to optimize the region as a whole. That management must go beyond simply attracting as many tourists as possible to include creating profitable tourism that has a solid economic effect and creates local employment. With Japan’s population shrinking, rather than regions around Japan competing for tourists, it will be important to work to build foreign tourist numbers to earn foreign currency. To that end, the Setouchi DMO’s mission has been formulated as “regional revitalization through the establishment of a Setouchi brand—realizing regional revitalization and a growth cycle,” with a particular focus on drawing foreign tourists to Setouchi. The DMO is engaged in a range of initiatives aimed at linking growing tourist numbers to business chances for local companies, easing pressure on the region and enabling local residents to look forward with pride and hope to a bright future.
For example, as a framework supporting companies that are keen to expand their product and service ranges and sales channels to attract foreign visitors, “Setouchi DMO Members” provides various functions which individual companies find difficult to manage alone, aiming to realize profitable tourism by linking the boom in tourism to business chances. These functions include the “Setouchi Salon,” which provides business leaders with new product development ideas and business-matching opportunities to help companies find new business partners, and the “Setouchi Concierge,” which provides business support such as a dedicated call-center interpreting service that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help foreign tourists when they have problems and a cross-border e-commerce website targeting individual customers in 120 countries.
In addition, the Setouchi DMO provides operational support for “Setouchi Holics,” a local residents’ network in which local residents take the primary role. Through this initiative, local residents who want to contribute to the development of Setouchi as a tourist destination, set up businesses in the region, get more information on Setouchi out into the world, and generally make Setouchi more interesting, are provided with a place to get together and form networks, and workshops are also held to develop the skills and knowledge of those involved, aiming to create new industries and expand employment.
Efforts to respond to the growing foreign tourist demand have only just begun. A key factor will be to ensure that products and services are ultimately supplied to visitors not just by the Setouchi DMO but also by local companies and residents. The mission of the Setouchi DMO is to elevate management by local companies and residents to the point where they can commit themselves fully to providing a shining platform for visitors.
Making Setouchi a place to visit again and again
The Setouchi area has a whole range of attractions, including cruises through the inland sea, the art flourishing at the Setouchi Triennale and throughout the region, cycling along the Shimanami coast, and the food, accommodation, and shopping indispensable to any great trip.
Setouchi wants to foreground these various attractions and polish up the area’s many still-unknown tourism resources, providing various travel options so that foreign visitors coming for long stays too can enjoy their time with us. We look forward to exposing the region’s many different faces so that visitors will want to visit not just once, but again and again and again.
(original article : Japanese)