How to ensure post-pandemic tourism enriches both locals and tourists

Highlights from Time Out Tokyo x ICF2021 Special Session: Requirements for a New Age of Tourism

Tabea Greuner
Written by
Tabea Greuner
Japanese garden
Photo: Masaaki Komori/Unsplash

The Innovative City Forum, a four-day international conference focused on city life and on how we’ll be living 20 years from now, was held between November 22 and 25. On November 24, a special session in collaboration with Time Out Tokyo looked at the future of tourism, titled ‘Requirements for a New Age of Tourism – weaving happiness, folklore studies, and technology into destination stories’.

In 2019, Japan saw around 31.88 million foreign visitors with inbound tourism booming at major tourist destinations. However, at popular destinations, tourist numbers exceeded capacity and caused problems between locals and travellers.

The five speakers discussed new forms of tourism in a post-pandemic world:

  • Facilitator: Arina Tsukada, editor and curator.
  • Takashi Kunitomo, TV producer and representative director of Asovision.
  • Gaku Tomikawa, director of the Tono City Tourism Association.
  • Yuko Inamasu, representative director of bespoke tour company Toki.
  • Hiroyuki Fushitani, representative director of Time Out Tokyo and Original Inc, ICF media partner.

Watch the full session on YouTube or read on for a summary of the conversation.

ICF report 1
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Yuko Inamasu & Hiroyuki Fushitani: how to provide invisible value

Hiroyuki Fushitani opened the panel discussion by proposing three necessary measures for post-Covid tourism. 

  1. Creating mutual benefits for tourists and local residents, such as increasing facilities and shops for local residents in touristy areas.
  2. Responding to the diversification of tourism. This includes initiatives like meta tourism, where one destination can attract a variety of people each interested in the site for different reasons.
  3. Focus on the unique values of local history, culture, and lifestyle, such as combining art with tourism. 

Based on these three suggestions, Yuko Inamasu commented that it’s very important to consult with providers of cultural experiences. Foreign travellers tend to experience Japan while comparing it to their own culture. No matter how familiar a visitor is with Japan, it’s still necessary to relate the experience back to the tourist’s own  culture and language. In addition, a place or event may seem interesting from a Japanese perspective, but it doesn’t mean that it’s interesting or easy to follow from a tourist’s point of view.

ICF report 1
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Gaku Tomikawa: redefining tourism that changes over time

Gaku Tomikawa moved from Tokyo to Iwate prefecture in 2016. He was fascinated by the Tales of Tono by folklorist Kunio Yanagita (1875-1962) and offers a variety of tourism experiences based on Tono city’s indigenous yokai legends (supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore).

He explained that tourism styles change over time and that it’s important to redefine them and connect them to local regions. His cultural tour Tono Meguri Toroge, for example, provides a new take on tourism focusing on yokai and the unique perspective on life and death in Japan’s Tohoku region.

ICF report 1
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Takashi Kunitomo: focusing on wellbeing after Covid

Takashi Kunitomo argued that the definition of happiness has been re-evaluated due to the coronavirus pandemic. He described ‘eight factors of happiness’: taking things as they are, self-forgiveness, thoughtfulness and gratitude, a purpose in life, devotion and spirituality, being aware of your inner and outer self, challenge and growth, and open-mindness and cooperating with others. Kunitomo said that over the past decade, he has noticed a trend towards introspection and that people are now more focused on feeling fulfilled inside, without looking to others for fulfillment. 

While typically tourism is about visitors enjoying places and culture that the local area chooses to highlight, Kunitomo predicts that in the future, the roles will be reversed. Taking the eight factors of happiness into consideration, tourists will define what's worth exploring, and local residents will be able to re-discover their homes from new points of view. Local residents may start to feel more confident and closer to their hometown, while developing desires to expand their horizons.

ICF report 1
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Hiroyuki Fushitani: post-Covid tourism has to work for everyone

Fushitani pointed out that Japan's policy for inbound tourism is still based on mass tourism. Since locals are essentially welcoming tourists into their own spheres of life, there should have been a discussion about the benefits and wellbeing of both sides much earlier. Fushitani says it’s important to ensure tourism is an enriching experience for both local residents and visitors.

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