There have been many services created to attract visitors to Japan, particularly as the Olympics is going to be held here in 2020. However, in reality it seems that sometimes we are unable to fill the needs of visitors, and in many cases, we don’t notice business opportunities because of cultural differences that a lot of Japanese people take for granted. Travel sharing site ‘Odigo’ is focusing on this blind spot, they’re targeting travellers across the world and they're going to launch in February 2015.
They have developed a service for visitors which lets them customise their trip to Japan by combining a map, an itinerary, and a list of spots that have expert tips, so that they can enjoy their trip to Japan more freely without worrying about cultural differences. People can post reviews for local spots such as restaurants or museums, and writers, well-informed people, artists and photographers, including Japanese people who have their roots in the local community, can all be used as a source of information to feed into Odigo.
Lauren Shannon is the community manager of Odigo. She has worked for small companies and restaurants in Japan for 17 years, she said,
I want to share the charm of Japanese culture, which Japanese people are unaware of, and make it easy for visitors to be able to visit not only Tokyo or Kyoto, but also places in the across Japan.
[caption id="attachment_86" align="alignnone" width="800"] Left: Community Manager Lauren and Right: Marketing & Content Editor Kuv[/caption]
Odigo is based in Japan and is a subsidiary of Redhorse Holdings which is based in Hong Kong and has other travel related businesses. The members of the team are all international, ranging from Japanese, American, Scottish, French, and Chinese. What they identified was that when expats live in Japan they are often asked for advice to help plan tours by their friends or family who want to visit Japan. To help with this, they can be directed to the website where they will find information built by the community and shared by travellers, they will find information about places which highlight the charms of Japan. It could be said that this service by Odigo is created by Japanophiles for Japanophiles.
Although we hear the words ‘diversity’ and ‘globalisation’ often, Japanese people are still known for not being confident with their communication skills. As more visitors arrive, we need to communicate to a more international audience, therefore it is necessary to be able to communicate the beauty and charms of Japan. How can we make Japan more appealing to visitors who are interested in Japan? What are their needs which we haven’t yet realised? Here’s more from Lauren Shannon -
The lack of tourist information in the countryside written in English
Please tell me about the features of Odigo’s service.
Lauren: Odigo is a travel sharing site for travellers to share their trips or reviews with friends and family only, or publicly for other travellers to see. We focus on information that is distinct, for example, what the characteristics are of a local town, and we want users to share information on places they have visited and that they thought were interesting or fascinating.
We’re want to spread not only formal information written in guidebooks, but also information that you would tell a friend such as, “The owner of this restaurant is kind.” or “That restaurant has Tonkatsu with rare branded meat.”.
What makes Odigo different from other review sites?
Lauren: Other review sites have good and bad information. Odigo on the other hand is targeting visitors who are interested in and want to enjoy Japan, so for example we’ll try and avoid negative posts and share only positive information. By doing so, travellers will be able to gain useful information quickly. We are particular about the quality of the content. When it is open to the general public, there are going to be variations in content quality, therefore our team will edit before it’s publish to keep the quality consistent.
What kind of impact will Odigo have on tourists?
Lauren: Nowadays, since many review sites in Japan are written in Japanese, it is impossible for people who cannot read Japanese to gain information. Moreover, in many cases, even though they might find a travel site, there is not much content there, or there’s only a brief outline. For that reason, a site like Odigo, which has detailed and curated content written only in English, can add value. Websites in the United States or in Europe have a lot of detailed information even if it’s about the countryside, but Japan still has a lot to catch up on in that area and it’s a missed opportunity for the Japanese tourism industry.
Though many companies and organisations have attempted to increase the number of tourists, there still seems to be a lot more to do. What do you think the weakness is of the Japanese tourism industry?
Lauren: What’s quite difficult for visitors is that they’re reading information that has been translated from say, an old leaflet, that’s been translated literally into English. This doesn’t work, the difference in culture isn’t written in the original version, it’s suitable for Japanese to gain information from, but not for tourists. If you want them to be interested you need to make content which has been well written and takes into account the cultural differences as well. Therefore an international team like Odigo which has Japanese, French, American, Scottish, and Chinese people makes it easier to develop Odigo’s system and service by using our various different backgrounds. For example, generally speaking Americans say ‘Movie Theater’ but Europeans say ‘Cinema’, we are trying to approach this from a cross-cultural point of view and edit content based on the different forms of expressions by country.
Also, even though brochures and flyers are nice, a lot of people get their information from the internet now, not from guidebooks. In addition, some English sites have very poor information compared to Japanese ones. For example, a restaurant may only have information such as the opening hours, how to get there or the basic information on their English site, but they have details such as the menu or events on their Japanese version. It’s hard to guess what is good about the place without the right amount of information.
Moreover, since there are only a few useful sites written in English, it takes time for visitors to try and customise their trip instead of using a package tour. It’s a big task to collect these various pieces of information. One of the reasons most tourists come to Tokyo instead of anywhere else in Japan, is that it is difficult to get any information about other places. People won’t get excited to go somewhere different unless we share the reason why they should visit a place outside of Tokyo, not only how to get there. What is important is to share the story, not the information.
Overcoming the complexities of English to make Japan more appealing
Even though Japanese people try to make their country more appealing, sometimes their lack of English understanding makes it difficult. What do you think about the relevance of language ability and communication skills?
Lauren: As I said before, Odigo has an editing team to correct mis-spelled, missing words or grammar. This helps when we are gathering information from a community. For example, we are in the process of inputing information about Okinawa into Odigo which is really interesting, Japanese people can tell us about it and we can edit the information they give us and add in the cultural elements to it. There are a lot of people like us who love and want introduce Japan, and want to know more about Japan. So we just have to help each other out.
What about when people don’t know what is appealing about their country or city?
Lauren: Those people tend to think about things such as ‘the strength of Japan’ or ‘the feature of the prefecture’ on a wider scale. But what is great about Japan is that many people work on one thing passionately. If you start thinking about ‘the beauty of Japan’, why don’t you start with things such as ‘ What do I like to do? What are my hobbies? What are my special skills? How do I want to promote these things to people who visit Japan for the first time?’ Japan is a nation of specialists, and that is its greatest strength. I strongly recommend you start by explaining something you have passion for, something that is special to you. It doesn’t matter how familiar you think it is. For example, ramen is very popular all over the world, but it can be hard for visitors to order here. It would be great if someone who loves ramen could explain the choices of soup, ingredients, and the hardness of the noodle.
The real meaning of diversity
Odigo seems to be a new service run by an international team. What do you think the real meaning of ‘diversity’ is?
Lauren: The word ‘diversity’ is not only for nationality or race, it is also used for differences such as gender, age, family structure or culture. What’s important when we think about diversity is to think about it from different people’s perspectives, and not something that is particular to the difference between countries. It’s to accept the idea of people who have different backgrounds, that is how diversity should be. Since Japan already has strengths such as kindness and hospitality, if they could add diversity, Japan could be more powerful.