In an announcement making waves throughout the online travel community, Japan’s Tourism Agency is planning to offer 10,000 free flights to interested foreigners in an effort to kick-start its faltering tourism sector. Visits to the island nation have plummeted by about half since an earthquake and resulting tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, largely due to fears of radioactive food and water.
Whether or not those fears are logical is irrelevant. Travelers generally have the luxury of choosing among a list of destinations, and if there’s a chance the saki will glow green, chances are people will go elsewhere.
Japan’s economy has been infamously stagnant for many years, and a recent wave of natural disasters caused difficulties for some major parts of the Japanese manufacturing sector, resulting in poor economic performance. The Japanese Tourism Agency believes that a jump-start to the nation’s tourism sector will help revitalize and recover the country’s economy as a whole.
The real brilliance to the plan is the Social Media strategy behind all of it. If Japan were to set up a lottery where all 10,000 tickets were distributed randomly, there’s no guarantee that the majority of those people would go home and really make an effort to share stories and photos of their trip with friends and family in an effective fashion.
Instead, the Tourism Agency plans to vet candidates. There will be an application process, and preference will go to individuals with a strong Social Media presence. All who recieve a free flight will be required to keep a blog about their time in-country. This assures the billion-plus yen (nearly 13 million USD) will be an investment. As a representative of the Agency told ABC News,
“We are hoping to get highly influential blogger-types, and others who can spread the word that Japan is a safe place to visit.”
Travel bloggers are of course going to share their pictures like crazy. They’ve got an audience, photography skills and writing abilities. It’s a brilliant move, where the Tourism Agency is, in an indirect fashion, hiring a bunch of travel writers to come to Japan and promote it as a viable destination once again. If Japan is wise enough and willing to combine the free flights with an all-out tourism-friendly PR blitz as Iceland is currently doing it will really produce dividends in the long-run for Japanese tourism.
If the Japanese government approves funding for the venture, it’ll turn into an excellent case study in revitalizing tourism in an area struck by natural disaster, political strife or some other form of bad mojo in the travel community. Places like Louisiana and Egypt should be paying careful attention.
I just hope nobody on any of those flights encounters any, you know, Godzilla-related turbulence.
Written while listening to: I Walked – Sufjan Stevens, Age of Adz