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JAL asks TripAdvisor to tell ‘untold stories’ about Japan- Nikkei Asian Review

TOKYO — Japan Airlines has opened a travel information website for foreign tourists in collaboration with TripAdivisor, an American travel website operator.

The aim is to provide foreign travelers with information about tourist destinations and local events in English in the hope of encouraging them to visit Japan. Unlike a growing number of similar websites in Japan, the “Untold Stories of Japan” site by the two companies is designed to focus not only on big cities but also on smaller, local attractions.

As the name suggests, the main theme of the website is to introduce lesser-known tourist attractions in Japan. It is the first project under the two companies’ business tie-up, agreed in September, intended to boost tourism demand.

The website, which opened last month, began with content featuring three regions: Tohoku (northeastern Japan), Kyushu (southern Japan) and Okinawa (the southernmost islands). Videos introduce attractions such as shrines, beaches and local foods, in places such as Matsushima, a group of islands in Miyagi Prefecture in Tohoku that is counted among Japan’s three great sights.

Visitors to the site can check how long it takes to get to those destinations from major airports in Tokyo and Osaka, in western Japan, as well as related information such as hotels, Japanese inns and reviews by other tourists. The website can be accessed from PCs, tablets and smartphones, and viewed in English, Chinese and Thai.

Hideo Ninomiya, a JAL managing executive officer, is enthusiastic about the website. “It is our answer designed to help Japan become a tourist nation and help revive local communities,” he said.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, 21.1 million foreigners visited Japan in the first nine months of this year, exceeding the 20 million mark at the fastest pace than in any previous year. Yet most foreign tourists visit only major cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, also in western Japan, and travel sites mostly focus on such places.

Untold Stories of Japan aims to fill the market niche by providing information about all kinds of cities across Japan.

JAL has been making efforts to boost tourism demand by setting up its own website (Guide to Japan) and offering special fares for foreign travelers. Though these efforts have helped increase ticket sales, the company said it has not been doing enough to reach people outside the country.

JAL has also been working to revive local communities. In a project to help rebuild areas in Tohoku that were severely affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the company sent executives to so-called antenna shops in the greater Tokyo area that sell Tohoku specialties. JAL President Yoshiharu Ueki said, “I hope introducing [Japan’s] attractions on TripAdvisor, which is the world’s largest travel information site, will increase demand for air travel.”

JAL hopes to create a favorable cycle through the website — foreigners interested in Japan first visit the site, then travel to Japan and, after the trip, write reviews on the site, which then inspire others to follow.

The Japanese government aims to welcome 40 million foreign tourists annually by 2020. The Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will probably provide a tailwind. But to send tourists to local cities across the country, Japan needs to make long-term efforts.

The new website will have more tourist information by the end of the year about areas around Tokyo, such as Chiba and Saitama prefectures. JAL and TripAdvisor plan to ask local governments, businesses and tourist organizations to create new content for the website in order to expand it.

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