The top five destinations for Japanese overseas travelers in 2008 in order of popularity were China (3.9 million), USA (3.5 million), Korea (2.2 million), Hawaii (1.3 million), and France (1.2 million). For China, the Beijing Olympics certainly contributed to this volume, and for Korea favorable exchange rates were a key factor in driving travelers there.
Now, turning to search, Japan has a population of 127 million, with internet penetration at around 73.8 percent of this group (only second to South Korea at 76 percent). Of this 73.8 percent penetration, it is said that around 96.3 percent or 90.2 million are actively selecting search as their main method for finding information online in Japan, according to a 2008 Impress report.
In adding up the above figures, the travel industry in Japan represents a solid billion dollar business with a very high proportion actively going online to search. They will do around 93 percent of their searches split between either Yahoo! (57 percent share of the market) or Google (36 percent share). And with mobile commerce continuing to gain ground, their preferences to search through this channel is also rapidly increasing.
As a marketer, you have two incredible ingredients here: 1) a large audience that has a history of significant spending and 2) a defined channel where you know this audience is going. When looking within the context of Asia, this represents a massive opportunity, if done properly.
Currently, extra attention is being spent on search engines as a key driver for capturing traveler/searcher interest. Below tracks the growth of several Korean related keywords showing the impact the devaluation of the Korean Won has had on keyword trends in Japan. Notice in October, in relation to the economic meltdown, search volumes started to massively climb for these keywords, as Japanese travelers were highly enticed to travel and take advantage of cheap Korean prices, whereas searches for Paris and New York related terms remain steady.
Let's now look at a few key tactics marketers should be using within the search channel to capture traveler demand online in Japan:
- With massive exchange rate fluctuations typically for destinations like Korea and Australia, search volume has massively increased, making it a prime opportunity to expand your keywords to focus on more long tail terms as well as to generally increase spending for these markets.
- To effectively manage spend, it's important to understand when your traveler is searching, so you can focus more spend on these key times. Having an active day-parting strategy either built around lunch time, after work, or late at night, can help you spend the right level at the right time.
- With mobile penetration so high, it is absolutely critical to have a plan for this channel. Either developing a booking engine for mobile, creating brand or community sites, offering unique content for mobile users, or at the very least, running search ads and optimizing for SEO, will be important for you.
- For SEO, the competition in the travel sector to rank high is steep. At a minimum, it's critical to create lots of great, topical content, but what's working now is in creating related sites, blogs, and other properties, and building up the SEO power of these, to then drive traffic back through your main transactional site.
- Several other strong areas to consider would be laying out a solid offline to search integration strategy, developing unique content along the lines of widgets, blog parts, and user generated content, thinking through innovative campaigns and deals, and ensuring you have a good balance between SEO and SEM.
It is critical to properly think through your search strategy to ensure you are using the best tools to capture this dynamic and growing audience online.