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Japan’s Plans to Use Social Network Listening to Cater to Olympic Tourists’ Needs

Apr 18, 2014 2:14 pm

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It’s creative and smart in theory — and they have plenty of time to work on it.

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Japan Sport Council  / Associated Press

This artist rendering released by Japan Sport Council shows the new National Stadium, which will become the main venue for the 2020 Summer Olympics if Tokyo is chosen as the host city in the International Olympic Committee voting in Argentina Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Tokyo is competing with Madrid and Istanbul for the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The Japan Sport Council announced the selection of the streamlined stadium designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, based in London, from 46 entries on Nov. 15, 2012. The new stadium, that can accommodate 80,000 spectators, will replace the current National Stadium, the main venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Japan Sport Council / Associated Press


To promote tourism ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the government is considering using Twitter and other social networking services to gauge the pulse of foreign travelers.

By following Twitter, the location of a traveler who comments, for example, “What a view of Mount Fuji!” could be pinpointed so promotional efforts can be focused on that very spot.

On the other hand, tweets complaining about the difficulty of finding a particular museum could be used to determine where to put up direction signs.

The government has been looking for ways to promote tourism under the Visit Japan Campaign since 2003. The commissioner of the tourism agency has set a goal of luring 20 million visitors to Japan by the Olympics, which is expected to dramatically boost the numbers.

Tourism has already jumped dramatically of late. In 2012 and 2013, 8.3 million and 10.4 million visited Japan, respectively, compared with about 5 million in the year before the campaign kicked off. Much of that was attributed to visitors from Southeast and East Asia, according to an official of the Japan National Tourism Organization, an affiliate of the agency.

The idea to use SNS-based analysis to glean foreign tourists’ likes and dislikes came up during a discussion by a panel studying fiscal 2013 agency research that used GPS data collected from people’s mobile phones to track their movements.

The working group, set up in October, will meet Friday to discuss the feasibility of SNS-based tourism analysis. The tourism agency hopes to include the research method in recommendations to be fleshed out during the meeting. The results could help local governments promote tourism, according to Tetsuo Mitarai, deputy director of the agency’s Regional Development Division.

“The GPS data are from NTT Docomo mobile phones, and although this is from 700,000 users, it’s obvious they are used mainly by Japanese,” said Mitarai. “So we felt the need to turn to other measures to collect information on foreign tourists, because we want to know especially what they think during their stay. That led us to turn to SNS.”

GPS data are supposedly anonymous and show only location and time. While the same is true of Twitter, the comments can provide information on what tourists desire or enjoy, which could give the government a surer grasp of what improvements might be necessary or desirable.

One sensitive issue is how to avoid violating an SNS user’s right to remain anonymous.

“For example, a tweet by a single person can remain anonymous, but if that information is combined with its location and tweets by other individuals that are apparently moving together, that may give you a clue as to who this traveling group is,” Mitarai said.

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