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Business

Asian partners help Japan's tourism industry roll out red carpet

Department store chain Matsuya has partnered with a major retailer in Thailand to attract Thai customers to its stores in Japan.

TOKYO -- Japanese companies are joining forces with local businesses elsewhere in Asia to cash in on the growing wave of foreign visitors to Japan.

     Retailers, travel agencies and others are reaching out for international partners as they attempt to attract overseas tourist spending. Department store operator Matsuya, for instance, has partnered with a Thai shopping mall operator to offer discounts to members of its loyalty program. Travel agencies like JTB and H.I.S. are teaming up with foreign partners in booking and marketing operations.

     With competition intensifying for a slice of the money spent by overseas tourists in Japan, estimated at more than 2 trillion yen ($16.9 billion) annually, it is vital to win over visitors before they ever set foot in the country.

selling the jet set

Matsuya has tied up with Thailand's The Mall Group, which operates department stores and shopping centers in the Southeast Asian country. The deal lets Thais who are signed up with The Mall Group's loyalty program enjoy the benefits of Matsuya's own program. The Thai retailer's 2 million cardholders receive a 5% discount on purchases at Matsuya stores. Combined with the consumption tax exemption that all foreign tourists can get, The Mall Group customers visiting Japan can have 13% knocked off the price tag at Matsuya stores.

     In October 2014, the list of items exempt from the consumption tax was expanded to include consumable goods such as cosmetics. That helped sales of eligible goods double to over 70 billion yen at department stores in Japan in 2014, compared with the previous year. Matsuya is hoping to cater to well-to-do Thais who are regular customers of The Mall Group stores.

     Matsumotokiyoshi Holdings, which operates a chain of drugstores in Japan, plans to increase the number of private-label products sold at supermarkets operated by its Thai partner, Central Group, a conglomerate involved in retail, real estate and other businesses. The Japanese company aims to become widely known in Thailand, hoping to pull Thai visitors to Japan into its stores.

     Leading players in Japan's travel market are also stepping up their marketing abroad. JTB has linked its online booking system to that of a Chinese travel agency. Last year JTB tripled the number of tour packages from the previous year to 1,200 offerings. The company plans to raise that number. Chinese travelers can choose from a frequently updated menu of JTB packages through its local partner.

     H.I.S., another large Japanese travel agency, concluded in 2014 a franchise agreement with Telekomunikasi Indonesia, a major telecom carrier. This summer, H.I.S. will launch a full-scale marketing campaign using the Indonesian company's sales network. The Japanese travel service hopes to have 100 sales outlets in Indonesia in three years.

Winter green

At the end of last year, MacEarth, which operates more than 30 ski resorts around Japan, formed a partnership with two Chinese ski resorts -- Jundushan ski resort near Beijing and Beidahu ski resort in Jilin Province. As more Chinese skiers try out the slopes in Japan, MacEarth will work with its Chinese partners to entice still more to come.

     The Japanese government predicts more than 15 million overseas tourists will visit Japan this year. Repeat guests are also on the rise, and the companies that cater to them are eager to make a lasting impression. Their efforts should help the Japanese government reach its goal of 20 million international visitors by 2020.

(Nikkei)

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