Japanese Tourism Companies Launching More Online Tours

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An example of an online tour of Hawaii run by HIS Co. is displayed on screens.

Online tour packages have been increasing by major Japanese travel agencies to allow people to imagine they are traveling without worrying about the novel coronavirus infection.

There are now a wide variety of packages available, including Pacific War memorial tours and school trips.

HIS Co. has on offer an online fortune-telling experience where participants can have their future read by a famous fortune teller in India. Participants can hear such words as, “You will be lucky between the ages of 42 and 45” and “Your lucky numbers are 8, 17, and 26.”

The fee is ¥4,000 for 30 minutes. Using the Zoom web conference system, virtual tourists can also experience astrology and palm reading.

Other versions of the virtual service include tours of Hawaii’s beaches with local guides. About 800 different packages from about 50 countries and regions are currently on offer and pricing ranges from free of charge to about ¥30,000. More than 30,000 people have already used the services and the company is aiming to have 300,000 customers using a range of 2,000 offerings by next autumn.

Overseas travel accounted for about 80% of HIS’s sales, but the company’s performance has deteriorated due to the spread of novel coronavirus infections. As a result, more than one-third of its about 260 branches in Japan are planned to be shuttered. Online tours were launched as a last-ditch effort, but Masayuki Oda, managing executive officer of HIS, is confident that they can become a new source of revenue.

In October, JTB Corp. began selling an online tour of Japanese war memorials and war sites in the Philippines. The tour was designed mainly to meet the needs of the elderly who are worried about infection. The price starts at ¥250,000 without tax, including the cost of a Japanese guide and flower offerings.

For junior high schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area whose field trips have been canceled, KNT Co. has planned a “remote field trip” that includes a lecture by a priest at Yakushiji temple in Nara as well as cultural experiences.

According to the Japan Tourism Agency, 47 major travel agencies saw their handling of domestic travel for October plummet by 38.7% compared to the same month last year and saw their handling of overseas travel for the same period nosedive by 97.9%.

On the other hand, in a survey conducted by the Japan Travel and Tourism Association on 20,000 people in late September, about 30% of the respondents said they had experienced or would like to experience online tours.

Keiichi Tsujino, a specially appointed professor of tourism at Ryutsu Keizai University, said: “A new way to enjoy travel has been born. We can expect that this will lead to actual travel after the infection is contained.”