Japan bets on WeChat to hook Chinese tourists

As Japan’s inbound tourism continues to fall short of pre-pandemic levels, the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) is seeking a new way to generate interest among its main group of visitors.

The JNTO is teaming up with companies across domestic aviation, retail, and hospitality sectors to launch a WeChat mini program to promote Japanese culture to Chinese consumers. The mini program, called 观美日本(“Appreciate Beautiful Japan”) functions as a mobile catalogue of products and experiences available in Japan, displayed in a vertical feed with images as the focus, similar to an Instagram or Xiaohongshu feed.

Users can filter the content by five beauty-themed categories – food, sensory experiences, handicrafts, cosmetics, or scenery – and toggle between official promotions from partner companies or user-generated content from “experts”. Users can also share their own recommendations via posts with images and short text captions. Big names among the nine partner companies include Shiseido, Hoshino Resorts, and Japan Airlines. 

Chinese tourists typically account for 30% of inbound tourism in Japan, but the inflow of visitors from the neighbouring giant currently sits at only about 20% of pre-pandemic levels. Despite disavowing its zero-COVID policy at the end of last year, the Chinese government has kept in place varying degrees of international travel restrictions throughout the better part of 2023.

As Chinese tour groups now return to popular tourist sports worldwide, economists are warning retailers not to expect explosive spending. “Chinese consumer sentiment is cooler than ever, and the desire to save is increasing,” Sony Financial Group economist Takayuki Miyajima told Reuters. Given the rise of immersive and experiential offline retail in China, however, the JNTC’s new WeChat mini program is well-placed to make the most out of travel resumption despite shaky consumer demand.


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