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Japan a target market for WA tourism push

THE Japanese may be among the world’s big investors but despite this global outlook on the fiscal side they’re a bit afraid of travel.

This discomfort with overseas trips, even for businessmen, led the Perth’s Sheraton Hotel to devote 10 rooms to guests from Japan - to make them feel more at home.

“The Japanese are somewhat intimidated by going to Western countries – a lot of them don’t speak English,” Sheraton general manager Craig Seaward said.

It’s hardly a trade secret that Japanese are sticklers for both tradition and perfection, nor is it qualified information that they work hours that would make lawyers and stockbrokers edgy, and these factors combine to make the Japanese tourist somewhat of a unique entity in the travel business.

“Japanese tourists have particular needs that are sometimes more demanding than other Asian travellers,” Mr Seaward said.

“The Japanese like to have everything in their hands because it equates to value for money.

“For example if somebody says ‘Your accommodation is including breakfast’ they want to have the breakfast vouchers in their hands, so that they don’t have to, when they get down to breakfast, be asked questions like ‘Do you have a breakfast voucher?’ or ‘What’s your room number?’ they just hand it over. It makes it easier and more convenient for them.

“Japanese don’t like going away and having to make decisions on where to have dinner, what to eat, how to eat it. The Japanese want to be able to be given a menu that says, ‘This is what you’re going to eat’ and they want to see the menu before they actually get to the destination.”

Likewise, according to Mr Seaward, the average Japanese visitor will have a meticulous itinerary already planned long before arrival, and they stick to it with uncommon dedication.

Mr Seaward took over management of the Sheraton Perth just eight months ago and, having worked throughout Asia for the past decade, saw the demand of Japanese tourists as an opportunity to expand the Sheraton’s slice of the Japanese tourist market.

“I looked at it and said, ‘There’s obviously a niche here for our hotel to cater for them a lot better than we have done in the past’,” he said.

To this end, 10 rooms on the 13th floor have now been set aside to provide “unparalleled service” to Japanese guests.

The new Japanese quarters in the Sheraton provide guests free access to the popular Japanese television news channel NHK, along with mini bar full of home grown treats like Sebei rice crackers, Kirin beer, green tea and Calpis water.

Guests also receive slippers and a traditional Yakata robe (not to be mistaken with a Kimono).

Mr Seaward has also brought the WA Tourism Commission in on the act. The commission has provided free tourist brochures written in Japanese to complement the Sheraton’s Japanese language service directories and menus.

And, of course, nothing Japanese would be complete without a camera, so there are also disposable cameras in the rooms. The Sheraton also has a strong presence of Japanese nationals on staff to overcome the all-important language barrier.

“In our Origins restaurant we have a special Japanese dining program and all the menus are translated, and they actually get those menus as souvenir as they leave,” Mr Seaward said.

“Just those small little things that are important to Japanese business.”

Although Perth hardly commands a lion’s share of the Japanese tourist market, racking up just fewer than 53,000 visitors per year compared with almost half a million in Queensland, it does have the potential to attract many more tourists, upping the number of Japanese visitors by 13.8 per cent, in 1999-2000 while the national average dropped 3 per cent.

Rick Thomas, general manager of the International Marketing Division of the WA Tourism Commission, said he expected the number of Japanese tourists visiting WA to grow.

“Japan is one of our core international tourism markets,” Mr Thomas said.

“The WA Tourism Commission conducts regular marketing campaigns in Japan. We expect this growth trend in visitation to continue.”

He also praised the initiative and the action of the Sheraton.

“It is pleasing to see a local operator such as the Perth Sheraton Hotel launching such an innovative marketing strategy to improve business from Japan,” Mr Thomas said.

The Sheraton also holds another strong drawcard for Japanese tourists, being the only hotel in the city to house a Japanese Tourist Bureau (JTB) desk.

The JTB moved into the Sheraton in September 1999 and is Japan’s largest travel operator.

Although the slide of the Australian dollar isn’t fantastic news in most areas of commerce, it is good news for tourism, especially where the Japanese are concerned, as they tend to travel according to the relative strength of the yen.

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