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Tour the world, meet exotic people

Today we went to the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau, AKA the OCVB, or as I like to call it, the tourism bureau. Upon arrival, we were presented with slide show and some interesting facts about Okinawa. There are only 1.38 million citizens in Okinawa, but 5.52 million tourists visit each year. Looking on the street or on the monorail, you would think that’d mean on average 1 of every 6 people would be a tourist, but it doesn’t look that way to me. In fact, almost everyone I’ve seen appears to be Japanese! Where are these 5 million tourists hiding?

Surprisingly, the answer is that 95% of tourists are from mainland Japan. 5.22 million tourists are domestic compared to 301,000 international visitors. The number of domestic tourists has been declining this year though, and that’s why the bureau is trying to attract more foreign tourists. They’ve had some great successes so far in terms of media publicity and their own in-house advertisements and brochures, and have been pitching Okinawa to airline and cruise companies (China Airlines and Holland America to name a few) as great ports of call and flight destinations.

Apparently most of the Okinawa’s tourists are repeat customers, as 79% of survey respondents indicated they’ve visited previously. The bureau staff explained that a big challenge for Okinawa is to create more reasons to keep people coming back. Indeed, many people in our group indicated to me that since the nightlife isn’t very big they may not want to come back, as they felt they had done everything already. In the video that we were shown on Okinawa’s tourist attractions, it felt a bit like a debriefing video on the sights we had already visited during the week. Almost every attraction highlighted in the video was something that we had seen already, though the beaches pictures were a lot nicer than the one that our bus dropped us off at days earlier. Personally, I’d like to come back and see what’s up in Okinawa in the future, but when asked on the questionnaire we were given about when I’m planning to return, I couldn’t give them a straight answer. I feel like maybe in the next few years, but what would I do? The group says nightlife, and we were given a complimentary copy of the nightlife guide in Okinawa for our enthusiasm. I wish the theatre didn’t close at 22:00, but the whole society seems to close down at night. There are only a few stores I’ve seen that are open 24/7, and 90% of them were McDonalds. It goes back to a point the group identified about Okinawa’s citizens: they seem to be very laid back. I haven’t seen a lot of people darting across the street or dashing up escalators to catch trains. The monorail isn’t extremely crowded, even at 17:00, and it was even 30 seconds late once.

Overall, I think that the OCVB has it right in what they’re doing. They mentioned their presence at several international travel conferences, and the fact that they’ve had so strong media presence in the last few years is also a good way to attract people to the island. It’s true what they said about Okinawa being close to everywhere in the east, and I’m sure if they keep on the path that the are they could probably create a travel hub between mainland Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines. The island is really a very scenic area, and they’re able to collect healthy fees when Okinawa is used in movies. Since there are so many tourists, it sounds like more entertainment is a good way of generating interest in the island, but it also seems that a lot of people vacation in Okinawa to get away from it all as well and simply relax.