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October 16, 2013

Japan Looking to Big Data for Tourism Boost

Isaac Lopez

Tourism has been a vital part of the Japanese economy for decades, with over 8 million people annually visiting the island nation. However, after the Fukushima disaster, this number declined significantly, with 6.2 million spending their vacation dollars in Japan in 2011. It’s a dip they hope to never see again.

Recognizing that tourism is vital to the health of the Japanese economy, the Japanese government instituted the Japan Tourism Agency, whose aim it is to foster the pipeline of incoming tourist dollars. One of the key initiatives in the wake of the Fukushima impact is to build a foreign tourism framework that is not easily affected by external factors. As part of this effort, they are turning to the big data technology trend.

According to a report in the Japan News, the Japan Tourism Agency is in the process of forming an expert panel aimed at using big data analytics to establish a framework for boosting tourism. The agency plans to start a massive data collection effort that will include data such as mobile GPS coordinates, and social media streams from about 700,000 tourists in eight areas across the nation that will be used to build their strategy. The ultimate goal: Japan wants to boost the number of overseas visitors by an additional 30 million by 2030 (an increase of approximately 1.875 million additional visitors per year).

According to Japan News, the agency has identified a tourist hotbed that they hope to use as a magnet to attract the lofty number of visitors. These tourist magnet centers around Mr. Fuji and the surrounding area, including Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Furano, Hokkaido, and all of the Fukishima Prefecture.

So where does the big data play in these plans? The new commission being formed will be looking at mobile phone companies to provide customer data originating in and around these areas.

From the Japan News report:

After obtaining consent from their customers, the mobile phone companies send data on the customers’ action history every five minutes to servers. Such data from about 700,000 people, excluding personal information such as name, age, gender and home address, are likely to go to private-sector entities, such as map information providers and think tanks, that will help create a tourist database. The database is expected to offer such information as where tourists arrive and depart from, the routes they use to reach their destinations, their length of stay, and whether they use accommodations. The agency intends to provide local governments and travel companies with the results of their data analysis.

The idea, of course, it to discover patterns in the way tourists travel the region, and find ways to maximize those patterns (and extraction of tourist dollars) along the way, as well as using that information to provide more outreach in order to widen the net of incoming tourists.

“For example, if many travelers are found to have headed for Mt. Fuji from Yokohama, launching a promotional campaign for Mt. Fuji in Yokohama could be effective,” writes Yomiuri Shimbun in the Japan News. “If many tourists visit spots overlooked by the municipalities where they are located, such spots could be promoted as new tourist attractions.”

The framework for such an endeavor still needs plenty of fleshing out, but it’s interesting to see a nation taking the project on. Currently, the agency’s goal for 2013 is 10 million foreign travelers. It will be interesting to see whether it hits that goal (8.37 million visited last year), and how the numbers are affected once their analytics infrastructure is in place.

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