Singapore back on Japanese tourists' map

SINGAPORE has become cool again with the Japanese, on the back of a smooth TV commercial featuring popular boyband Smap and Marina Bay Sands (MBS), and more is being done to attract even more visitors from Japan.

At least two large Japanese travel agencies are rolling out fresh tours to get the Japanese to come here for a holiday. These include tours for foodies as well as those catering to three-generation families.

Major Japanese travel agency JTB will be launching a guided tour for Japanese food lovers visiting Singapore next month. A celebrity chef from Fukuoka will design a food trail and take Japanese tourists to eating places here.

Sales for the tour started three weeks ago and response has been "very good" so far, said the general manager of JTB Singapore's inbound office, Ms Ow Yong Kit Fun. "The Japanese like to follow trends and when they see recommendations by someone famous, they're likely to follow suit... We're confident that this will take off in Singapore," she said. The food trail could cover high-end restaurants and local food places, she added, without giving details.

Another major Japanese travel agency, H.I.S. International, which has a branch in Singapore, plans to launch a three-generation Singapore tour package in July.

While women in their 20s to 40s make up most of its clients, the agency's inbound branch manager, Mr Noriaki Koga, sees potential for three-generation travel.

"In Japan, grandparents don't usually live with their children and grandchildren so they hardly see one another," said Mr Koga.

"When travelling together, they can talk about their common experiences. It's a good time for family bonding."

He is looking at hotel rooms big enough for at least six people, as well as visits to attractions that appeal to all age groups, such as wildlife-themed parks.

Agencies are also looking at tailoring tours for well-heeled older women from their 40s to 60s.

These women tend to want more "differentiated" experiences such as having evening cocktails while enjoying night views or fine-dining, said Ms Ow Yong.

The new snazzy tours promise to build on the momentum generated by the Smap TV commercial, which has helped Singapore to shake off its tired image.

Previously, when the Japanese thought of Singapore, it was Sentosa that came to mind, but the Smap commercial introduced them to new places such as MBS.

The highly successful 2011 video has "catapulted Singapore's status as an iconic travel destination among the Japanese travellers", said Ms Geraldine Yeo, regional director (North Asia) of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

In 2012, about 757,000 Japanese tourists came here, up 15.3 per cent from 2011. This has continued: Some 619,000 Japanese tourists arrived here between January and September last year, 11.7 per cent more than the number for the same period the year before.

Japan is one of Singapore's largest sources of tourists. It ranks sixth behind the likes of Indonesia and China, going by STB figures released last month.

Dr Michael Chiam, a senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, has noticed more working-class Japanese tourists coming here. "If we can provide them with good quality and value-for-money experience, there is potential for growth in this market," he said.

Police officer Yoshihiro Takahashi, 34, here for a holiday with his mother, was open to the idea of having three-generation tours. "I'd go for it if it's cheaper for us to travel together as a family... I'd like to spend more time with them on holidays," he said in English.

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