Unit 04-A: Creation of DMOs to promote Inbound Tourism: Methods and Issues

Yoshitaka MIZOO
the Japan Travel Bureau Foundation


 In Japan, the trend towards the use of inbound tourism to drive regional revitalization is increasing in strength. Against the background of an increasing number of overseas visitors to Japan, ensuring that the nation’s regions are ready to accept tourists is an urgent task. DMOs are one response. DMO is short for Destination Marketing/Management Organization. These are tourism promotion organizations established under the auspices of regional areas themselves. Their roles include providing information, conducting promotions, implementing effective marketing, and formulating strategy.
 This paper will discuss effective means of evaluating regional resources when regional areas begin to create DMO, and will indicate a number of points in relation to DMO strategies which should be adopted by regional areas.
 Prior to commencing this discussion, the following two points should be made: First, in relation to regional areas (here referring to the regional city, town or village level), “inbound tourism” refers not only to tourism involving overseas visitors to Japan, but to all visitors from outside the specific region, including Japanese citizens; foreign tourists represent a subset of tourists from outside the region. Second, while “Japanese-style DMO” are now being hurriedly created under the leadership of the Japan Tourism Agency, they already have precedents in the US and Europe. It is this type of DMO that Japan should be striving to create. “DMO” here therefore refers to “universal DMO” rather than “specifically Japanese DMO.”
 The success or failure of a DMO depends on whether or not the regional area creating it is able to express its individual character in its initiatives. This paper will discuss a framework for DMO strategy, and it is the author’s hope that individual regions will deploy their own regionally-specific DMOs based on this framework.

1.Evaluation of Tourism Resources possessed by Regional Areas ― The Target Market is the Determinant ―

  Tourism can be viewed in a narrow sense, as concerned with “sightseeing” for the purpose of “looking” and “learning,” or in a broader sense, encompassing “recreation” and “accommodation.” Regional areas attempting to create a DMO must evaluate the resources that they possess, and determine whether, as a travel destination, they are one or other of these, or whether they have the characteristics of both. It is also essential for regions to decide on their travel products after learning as much as possible about which areas they are able to attract visitors from and what the preferences and behavioural characteristics of people from those areas are.

1.1 Is the area a “sightseeing area”?
  The type associated with tourism in the narrow sense, as “sightseeing,” is basically the tour, on which tourists visit a number of places in a specific area.
 In order to attract tourists to a region, it is essential first to understand the characteristics of the resources that the region possesses as a sightseeing area. “Characteristics” here refers to the types of resources and the appeal of the individual resources. Based on the type of resources possessed by the region, it can be decided what individual themes tourism products can be created around. Regional knowledge will be applied to determining themes that will attract visitors to particular places – Culture, history, flowers, etc.
 In addition, the regions from which visitors can be attracted (from overseas, throughout Japan, regionally, within the prefecture, or from neighboring prefectures) will be decided based on whether the appeal possessed by individual resources is high or low. At present, there is no method of evaluating the level of appeal of resources other than comparing them with existing sightseeing resources within Japan*1). If the resources possess a strong appeal, it will be possible for the region to attract visitors from more remote areas. What must be borne in mind is that the further the distance to be travelled from the point of departure to the destination, the more time and expense is involved in the travel, meaning generally that more days are involved in the trip, and the trip covers a wider area. Because of this, for tourists from distant locations, the program of travel offered must not be restricted to a single region or prefecture. This point is illustrated by the distances travelled over the seven Japan Tourism Agency-designated wide-area sightseeing routes (spanning different prefectures) targeting foreign tourists, such as the Dragon Route*2).
 By contrast, if the appeal of the regional resources is low, or the level of appeal changes with the seasons (flowers, events, annual festivals, etc.), one specific area will be the focus, and in such cases it would be desirable to provide information in a timely fashion to nearby markets.
 The author has past experience in presenting Tokyo tourist products and regional attractions separately to overseas markets, the national Japanese market, and the market comprised by regions close to Tokyo and the broader Kanto region. This would presumably be an effective approach at the prefectural level.

*1) For methods of evaluation of the level of appeal of tourist resources, see Utsukushiki Nihon: Tabi no Fuko, published by the Japan Travel Bureau Foundation.
*2) The Dragon Route is a project in which nine prefectures in the Chubu and Hokuriku regions (Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Shizuoka, Nagano, Ishikawa, Toyama, Fukui and Shiga) have joined 
  together to attract overseas tourists.


1.2 Is the area a “recreation area”?
  This section will look at “recreation areas,” with recreation considered an aspect of tourism in the broader sense. Taking golf and skiing as representative examples, the characteristic of recreational tourists is to stay in the chosen destination and spend time performing the desired activity. Rather than moving between a number of locations, this type of tourism involves a simple round trip between the point of departure and the destination, and a short travelling time is therefore desirable. Because Japan possesses numerous recreation destinations with a high degree of interchangeability, recreation areas make nearby heavily-populated markets their main targets. A perfect example of this is the high volume of tourists travelling to Japan from Korea in order to play golf or ski. The fact that large number of tourists come to Japan from Australia to ski is due to the availability of good-quality powder snow in Japan during the off season in Australia, which attracts Australian skiers during the Japan ski season. Because the trip from Australia involves time and expense, in this case the amount of time that these tourists spend in Japan becomes longer.

1.3 Is the area an “accommodation area”?
 Depending on the conditions of the location, there are three types of “accommodation area” (another aspect of tourism in the broader sense), as follows:
  a) The area is a sightseeing area, is on a sightseeing route, or there is a sightseeing area nearby
  b) The area doubles as an accommodation area because it is a recreation area in which tourists choose to stay
  c) In areas which are solely accommodation areas, visitors come from nearby regions
 In terms of the resources of accommodation areas, if we consider Japanese tourists specifically, the presence of a hot spring is a major attraction. Other than this, areas of scenic beauty and areas with beautiful natural environments are selected as accommodation areas. As the distance that visitors have to travel to reach the area becomes higher, the quality and scale of accommodation facilities becomes an issue (both individually and in the region as a whole). At the same time, as the recent popularity of guesthouses indicates, there are travellers who are prepared to stay for longer periods in simple accommodation if the cost is kept down.。

1.4 Diversity of preferences of overseas tourists
  With regard to foreign visitors to Japan, there are differences between the interests of westerners and Asians, and, among westerners themselves, of people from, for example, the US, France, and Germany, and they will naturally choose different destinations and activities in Japan. In the case of Islamic tourists in particular, if there is insufficient awareness of culinary and religious requirements, it will not be possible to meet the needs of guests. Ultimately, it is essential to have a strategy for the provision of information to target markets, and for the acceptance of visitors from those markets. It must also be borne in mind that as they come to visit Japan more, the destinations, desired activities, and preferences even of people from the same country will change.

2.Establishing Strong DMOs

2.1 Communication of information from the region
 Next, when a product has been created, it is essential to have a strategy for where and how to sell the product. This generally means selling the product to a travel company, but it is difficult to rely entirely on travel companies, because their focus is normally the entire country, and they tend to disregard regions and tourism resources which have a low level of recognition. However, because even travel companies do not possess a comprehensive knowledge of new themes and tourism resources, it is important for the destination region to continue to actively provide information, prompting awareness and promoting the commercialization of travel products in the target regions. Today, of course, business to customer (B2C) activity is a major focus in addition to business to business (B2B) custom, and in this era of social networking services (SNS), it will be necessary for destination regions to continuously provide fresh information to interested parties via computer and other information devices.
 The appropriate originator of this information will differ depending on the target market. For nearby markets, it will be sufficient for small regional cities, towns or villages to provide tourist information. If the entire nation is the target market, then the initiative will shift to the prefectural level. In the case of overseas markets, cooperation will transcend the prefectural level – for example, all prefectures in Kyushu would collaborate to sell to foreign markets. In fact, the names of prefectures or city wards are not recognized in overseas markets. We should consider this from the tourist’s perspective. For tourists, the names Yokohama, Kamakura and Hakone have greater recognition than Kanagawa Prefecture; the names Asakusa and Ueno are more recognizable than Taito Ward. These are the names that we should lead with. The level at which it is possible to do this is the level for the provision of information.
 This represents what I will term region-led destination-based tourism.

2.2 Intra-regional cooperation ― The advancement of community tourism ―
There are in fact few examples of successful destination-based tourism. In order to bring it closer to reality, it will be essential to strengthen traditional tourism associations, and do away with a model of reliance on the government or regional administration. We need to cultivate for-profit businesses, and deploy specialist staff. Cooperation between enhanced tourism associations and various regional bodies, including chambers of commerce, agricultural cooperatives and fisheries cooperatives, and, above all else, a warmly welcoming populace, will be vitally important factors.
The movement towards turning tourism associations into incorporated associations is a first step towards strengthening the organizations*3), but nevertheless many remain dependent on the government. Against this background, in 2003 the Niseko Resort Tourist Association became the first tourist association in Japan to become an incorporated company. In addition to independently registering travel businesses and conducting a variety of profit-making businesses, the Niseko Resort Tourist Association has commenced community FM broadcasts and also commissions the operation of roadside tourist centers. We can point to the Nagasaki Prefecture Convention and Tourism Association as an example at the prefectural level. This incorporated foundation is almost entirely independent from the government, and is able, depending on circumstances, to ally itself with special travel businesses in a way that would be difficult for government organizations. The Association’s number of employees and budget scale is far and away greater than those of other prefectures. The Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau, a public interest incorporated foundation, has added a new function for the organization of conventions to the traditional tourist association, enabling it to mount multifaceted initiatives. Other than these organizational considerations, the willingness for the government, tourist associations and chambers of commerce to engage in dialogue when needed, as in the cases of Yonezawa, Kusatsu, and Yufuin-Onsen, will also be an important factor.

*3): The majority of conventional tourist associations at the prefectural level are incorporated associations or incorporated foundations, while the majority at the town and village
       level are voluntary organizations.

 As exemplified by eco-tourism, “community (-based) tourism,” which is being promoted in developing nations, creates a system of intra-regional economic circulation in which tourists are attracted to a specific region, and the majority of their expenditure occurs within the region. Local guides show tourists the region’s tourism resources, tourists eat at restaurants that serve local cuisine, they purchase souvenirs at shops selling products made by local people, they stay in locally-funded accommodation facilities, etc.
 Even if destination-based tourism does not present a similarly complete system, for the sake of cooperation between local residents and related organizations, it is important to recognize that it is the supply of raw materials and products from the region’s primary and secondary industries and from other tertiary industries that supports the tourist industry. When the close relationship between these industries and the tourist industry is made clear, it is possible for people to see that the economic effects of tourism extend broadly throughout the region. Increasing the economic effect of the tourist industry has a positive effect on other industries. Today, we are seeing primary industry itself striving to become a “sextiary sector,”*4) and secondary industries are organizing factory visits and selling products directly to tourists. By connecting these primary and secondary industries directly with tourists (consumers), it would be possible to clearly see the direction for strong-selling products, creating new economic effects.

*4): The “sextiary sector,” (sometimes called the “sixth sector,”) is a Japanese term referring to the diversification of agriculture into agriculture-related manufacturing and services
       such as food processing and restaurant management. The concept of a “sixth sector” originates from the idea of combining agricultural production (Primary industry: 1) with 
       processing (Secondary industry: 2) and distribution and sales (Tertiary industry: 3) to generate a synergistic relationship (1×2×3=6).

 The significance of tourism for Japan’s regions, and the purpose of working to promote tourism, is understood in initiatives of this type. However, the purpose of tourism is not merely to produce economic benefits, but also, by welcoming people from outside the region, including foreign tourists, to promote their understanding of a culture which was initially strange to them, and to realize personal growth in the people of the region by means of the mutual stimulation occurring through exchange with visitors to the region.
 If tourists like the places that they visit, various areas in the region will soon become well known, increasing that region’s brand power. If the region’s recognition increases, then it will become easier for its primary and secondary industries to find markets if they choose to sell their products outside the region. And if the people of the region are told how desirable their home region is when they visit other parts of the country, they will develop pride in their region. A town that is desirable to live in will be a town that is desirable to visit. The type of organization able to make this a reality is precisely the type of DMO that Japan’s regions should be attempting to create.


  • Yoshitaka Mizoo (ed.)(2009) “Kanko-gaku no kiso (Basics of Tourism (in Japanese)),” Hara Shobo.
  • Yoshitaka Mizoo (2011) “Kanko to keikan (Tourism and Landscape (in Japanese)),” Kokon Shoin.
  • Yoshitaka Mizoo (2015) “Kaitei-ban Kanko-gaku: Kiso to jissen (Tourism: Basics and Practices (revised edition) (in Japanese)),” Kokon Shoin.