The four-day international conference Innovative City Forum was held in Tokyo this November, with a focus on how we’ll be living 20 years from now. On November 25, a panel of experts discussed the outlook for tourism and travel in a session titled ‘Visions of Tourism – the new relationship between the value of experience and consumption’.
Four speakers looked at how new technology and new social norms adopted during the pandemic could change tourism as we know it.
- Facilitator: Arina Tsukada, editor and curator.
- Ellie Omiya, writer and artist.
- Takayuki Kubo, professor and associate dean of the College of Asia Pacific Studies at the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University.
- Naotaka Fujii, CEO of Hacosco Inc; distinguished professor at the Digital Hollywood University Graduate School.
Watch the full session on YouTube or read on for a summary of the conversation and the key questions.
What’s the purpose of tourism, in a world where travel is restricted?
At first, the speakers discussed the future of tourism by explaining their perspectives through keywords written on panels.
Naotaka Fujii’s keyphrase ‘medicine, food and housing’ includes the idea of tourist destinations that focus on wellness, based on the Japanese custom of toji (hot spring treatment). In Japan, hot spring baths are believed to have myriad health benefits. Fujii, who produces high-resolution models for virtual sightseeing, said she has come to the conclusion that it is essential to actually go to these places and experience them with your own eyes.
The keyphrase introduced by Takayuki Kubo was ‘Sightseeing is declining. Tourism is developing’. He emphasised that true tourism involves immersing yourself in a place before returning home, rather than simply packing in as many famous sites as possible. He added that cities in which people regularly interact in person typically have high cultural standards and strong economic power.
Ellie Omiya’s keyphrase ‘new me’ highlighted her desire to try to reinvent herself. She said that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, people are reflecting on their lives and questioning the ways they’re living. If a region can become somewhere that matches with a person’s ‘new me’, then that gives the area a chance to attract like-minded people.
Can tourism rebound?
According to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the travel and tourism sector contributed 10.4% to the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. Data also shows that, pre-pandemic, over 1.4 billion people, one-fifth of the world's population, travelled abroad once a year. Will those numbers return when the coronavirus pandemic is over and international travel resumes?
According to Kubo, the future will see population increases as well as a rise in per capita income. Through technological innovations, it will be easier to travel abroad and globalisation will continue to progress. Kubo thinks people’s desire to travel will return, along with the formerly high percentage of tourists.
In response, Omiya pointed out that it’s important to think about things that are not currently considered ‘tourism’. At the moment, people's needs are diverse and even basic physiological needs, and what counts as a sense of safety, may be changing.
Omiya also argued that different people engage with their interests differently, so future tourism cannot be one-size-fits-all. Art fans, for example, may be more interested to be involved as a member of the staff at a museum, rather than simply visiting. People who are interested in food, on the other hand, may want to grow their own pesticide-free vegetables under the guidance of farmers, instead of just buying them in a store. Omiya said that there might be a way to expand tourism when people and regions can be more connected.
How can less well known regions reliably attract tourists?
Tsukada shifted the discussion to the sustainable revitalisation of regions. For a short period of time, discount deals such as Japan’s Go to Travel campaign may be effective, but they can’t be implemented forever. Usually, people travel to areas that are popular for specific produce or food, but what about the areas that don’t have special products? Tsukada proposed that there could be a way to help connect these areas with visitors who would be interested in them, and to gradually weave a ‘little story’ consisting of the history, culture, and nature of each region.
Fujii pointed out that it’s most important to share our experiences with others. She believes tourism in the future will focus more on creating relationships between people. Thanks to the recent increase in online socialising, we have more options in how we create relationships. By making full use of technology, we can come up with new creative ideas gradually.
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