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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Riding the Tourism Boom

Sep. 16, 2016

Summer may be winding-down in Japan but foreign tourists keep arriving. And while Tokyo is the main destination for many, the western city of Osaka is also at the top of the list.

Over the past 3 years, more people have arrived at Osaka's Kansai International Airport than the combined number of people who've arrived at airports in and around Tokyo.

And Osaka businesspeople are taking note. Overseas tourists say they like things that are unique to Japan. They love modern products that incorporate traditional Japanese designs.

But it's not just products that are selling well. Many tourists are also enjoying uniquely Japanese services and experiences.

One travel agency based in Osaka sells tour plans and travel packages through the internet, and operates 12 hotels in Hokkaido and Okinawa.

"Because we are a travel agency that also manages hotels, we are plugged into the tourism business. I think we have a lot of potential because we can combine these assets," says Yasuo Kondo, president of the company.

In April, the agency used these assets to start an unusual new lodging: a 96-room hotel capsule hotel. It's a type of accommodation that started in Osaka about 40 years ago, and is popular with businessmen and young people in Japan because of the reasonable prices.

"We also hope that staying at our hotel will become one of the reasons to visit Osaka," Kondo says.

The size of the rooms has been increased to allow more space for taller customers.

"I slept well because it's quiet and cozy," says one visitor.

A single-night's stay starts from about 36 dollars. The rooms are popular, particularly with young people trying to save on travel expenses. Female customers can try various Japanese brands of shampoo and conditioners to compare products.

The company plans to build about 10 more of these hotels in Osaka over the next 2 to 3 years. In addition to standard "capsule" rooms, it hopes to differentiate each hotel with themed art work or by building rooftop bars.

"If you want to motivate tourists to visit a certain area, I think that you have to build something that makes them want to stay," Kondo says.

Another company has done well by promoting uniquely Japanese products and services. It produces bento lunch boxes, and offers classes in which overseas tourists can learn to make sushi.

Sushi is the iconic Japanese cuisine for most visitors. Tourists not only get to enjoy lunch, they can try making it.

"This was a fun and special experience," says one customer.

The number of Muslim tourists has been increasing recently, and the company makes products that cater to these travelers as well.

"This beef is halal certified, and we use meat that has been prepared according to Islamic teachings," says one employee at the firm.

Muslims have strict rules about what they can eat. The company only uses ingredients and seasonings permitted by Islamic law. The cooking utensils are different from those used to make products for Japanese consumers.

Making halal bento boxes is time-consuming. But they're so popular that they're attracting Muslims visiting the region on business and company training programs.

"I've never had a halal bento box before," says one customer.

Sales are growing because of these innovative ideas, and the number of repeat customers is increasing.

"Our business has been growing rapidly. We have customers from France, the UK, Italy, Spain and Turkey -- not just visitors from Southeast Asia, but from around the world. We get a sense that our customers are happy and enjoy our products," says Yasuyuki Umemori, president of the company.


Joji Nishikawa, a consultant for the tourism industry, joins anchor Kyoko Tashiro in NHK World's Osaka studio.

Tashiro: Mr. Nishikawa, you've seen 2 companies whose business is growing. Can you tell me about their features?

Nishikawa: The first company, which is a tour company, runs a capsule hotel, which is Japan's unique style of accommodation. For foreign visitors, staying at such a hotel can be a special experience, unique in Japan. So they are not selling space for accommodation but they're selling a trip experience for emotional satisfaction of the visitors. That's one thing they do. They also work with a ship operator in Osaka to offer an Osaka Bay cruise package. Again, they are focused on selling the experience rather than material products.

Tashiro: What about the second company?

Nishikawa: The second company was offering a sushi-making experience. They do not treat all foreign visitors in the same way. For example, we have an increasing number of visitors from Muslim countries, so they incorporate halal. They provide tailored and customized services to different groups of customers and that's why they're doing well.

Tashiro: Specifically, what is that like?

Nishikawa: Commercial services are services that you provide to get paid for. But what they're offering 'omotenashi,' the Japanese hospitality for the joy and wonder of customers. So they're not providing general services to all customers but they're providing specific customized services or omotenashi to individual customers.

Tashiro: Not service for money.

Nishikawa: It's different.

Tashiro: People say the shopping by inbound tourists is losing power. What can we do not to lose such power?

Nishikawa: For tour companies who wish to accommodate more foreign tourists in future, I think what they need to do is to increase the loyal repeaters. People who want to come back to Japan just to come back to Japan, they're just repeaters. But if they want to come back to meet a certain person or come back to a specific place, we call them loyal repeaters. We need more loyal repeaters for tour companies who wish to accommodate more foreign tourists in future.

Tashiro: How can we create more loyal repeaters?

Nishikawa: As an example, I travelled to the United States and made a purchase. And the store manager came back to me with my product and said, 'Thank you, Mr. Nishikawa.' I think he saw my credit card.

Tashiro: They found out your name then called out your name.

Nishikawa: That's right. So they are not treating all customers in the same way. They are treating us as special individuals. And that's really the key to creating loyal repeaters. That's what's required in the industry in the future.

Tashiro: Hospitality should be more personalized in many ways, right?

Nishikawa: Yes, omotenashi literally means you think and act for the other person.

Tashiro: Think and act for the other person? That's different from service as a business.