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HOME NRI JOURNAL Chinese Tourists’ Behavior as Seen Through the Use of "Nitori Public × NRI" DX service: Connecting Behavior History to Hokkaido's Tourism Marketing


Innovation magazine that generates hints for the future


Chinese Tourists’ Behavior as Seen Through the Use of "Nitori Public × NRI" DX service: Connecting Behavior History to Hokkaido's Tourism Marketing

Mr. Isao Arai, President and Representative Director, Nitori Public Co., Ltd.
Mr. Takeshi Nonaka General Manager of Nitori Public Sapporo Sales Department
Tomofumi Watanuki, Services & Industrial Systems Business Promotion Department, Nomura Research Institute, Ltd.
Takaaki Kurasawa, Platform Architect Unit, NRi Digital


Jul. 18, 2019

Many Chinese tourists visit Hokkaido every year. Nitori Public Co., Ltd. hopes to revitalize tourism in Hokkaido by utilizing the strengths of the Nitori Group, which is expanding its operations in China. Therefore, Nitori Public and Nomura Research Institute, Ltd. (NRI) worked together during the 2019 Sapporo Snow Festival and the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival to collect information on the behavior of Chinese tourists. We spoke with both the companies about their new initiatives using the social networking app WeChat*1, which boasts an overwhelming share of the Chinese market, and ideas that can be used for future tourism marketing.

Increasing number of Chinese tourists, but insufficient information on them

The number of foreign nationals visiting Japan is increasing every year, reaching a record high of about 31,190,000 in 2018. Of these, about 8,380,000 were Chinese tourists, of whom 720,000 visited Hokkaido. Thus, Chinese tourists make up the largest number of visitors from a single country (24% of the total) and also spend the most per capita, thereby representing a huge business opportunity.

Mr. Isao Arai

President Isao Arai of Nitori Public explains the history of this project as follows: "Hokkaido is the birthplace of the Nitori Group. I saw that the tourism sector in Hokkaido was an area of significant growth in terms of business development, where we can utilize our knowledge accumulated in China and elsewhere. In this context, I received a proposal from NRI about analyzing the behavior of Chinese tourists using WeChat and decided to work together with them.”

Mr. Takeshi Nonaka

"Chinese tourists have moved from group travel to individual travel, and from consumption of products to consumption of experiences. We do not have information on what these individual tourists in Hokkaido are interested in, what experiences they consume, and what they are satisfied and dissatisfied with," says Mr. Tadashi Nonaka, General Manager at Nitori Public, about the challenges of marketing to Chinese tourists.

"Shingo Yamamoto of NRI, who was researching the digital usage of Chinese people, gave me the idea of obtaining location information from the operation logs of mini-programs*2 in WeChat, which has about 1 billion Chinese users. I realized that their behavior could be visualized by performing a time series analysis," says NRI’s Tomofumi Watanuki. This led to the establishment of the WeChat mini-program "Hokkaido Complete Capture" to collect and analyze behavior history.

Use of the WeChat mini-programs

After this, it was decided that the project would be implemented during the Sapporo Snow Festival and the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival, which see the largest number of Chinese tourists annually. Members of Nitori Public called on local tourism associations, stakeholders, and stores to participate in the project. Moreover, since Chinese people trust word-of-mouth more than advertising, they used influencers to spread the word, organized stamp rallies (collecting series of stamps at railway stations, tourist spots, etc.), and provided prizes to increase interest and usage.

Takaaki Kurasawa of NRi Digital explains the challenges with the project: "The technical difficulty was that there was no way to estimate access numbers. Although there was a possibility that server access would be concentrated at certain times of the day, building a server capable of handling a huge amount of data would be costly. Hence, we spent time studying the kind of system that should be built." As a result, the system was designed and developed in the cloud environment of AWS (Amazon Web Services) China*3 with a serverless architecture that can flexibly respond to changes in the number of accesses. Data management and system operations are carried out in NRI Beijing, China.

mpressed with the results of this project, Mr. Nonaka says, "The WeChat mini-program eliminates the need to download a separate app. Moreover, tourists can access information on Hokkaido simply by scanning the QR codes at tourism spots and stores. Since the barriers were so low, I introduced it to Chinese tourists who visited the snow festival site, and they immediately tried it."

Keeping the goal in sight is important in digital technology use

Analysis of the collected data revealed that there was a high volume of traffic between Sapporo and Otaru, and visitors tended to make detours on this route. "I was interested in why there were so many visitors to this place called Asari, which even Japanese people do not visit much. Upon researching, I found that it was the filming location of a movie that was released last year in China. I realized that it was possible to have a large number of visitors even in comparatively under-appreciated places," says General Manager Nonaka. "In the future, we would like to create a platform which would be well appreciated by tourists, containing information on new places to visit along their route and other such content. This would be useful not only for tourists but for tourism businesses as well."

Tomofumi Watanuki

"Through this project, we have been able to understand new issues, such as the effective use of influencers, improvement of user awareness, and the selection of urban areas that will expand in the future. We want to create valuable services for Hokkaido while solving these issues together with Nitori Public," says Watanuki.

Takaaki Kurasawa 

Kurasawa says, "It was difficult to design and develop the product in a short period of time, but it was worth it. We have been able to gain experience in agile manufacturing that can quickly respond to changes while constantly keeping the client in the loop."

“When I hear the word digital, my first instinct is to think that it means the work can be completed magically. However, I realized that it was essential to set it up carefully while thinking about what I want to achieve.
“This time, I knew that an enormous amount of data would be collected. Although I constantly wanted to try all sorts of things with it, I found that packing it full of functions would result in an inconvenient system.
“In order to make the best use of digital technology to produce results, it is necessary to think about what is really important. We intend to continue these activities for future projects as well," said President Arai.

  • *1 WeChat:
    A free instant messaging app created by the major Chinese IT firm Tencent.
  • *2 WeChat mini-programs:
    Applications available in WeChat. Since they do not need to be downloaded from the AppStore, they are convenient to use.
  • *3 AWS (Amazon Web Services) China:
    Cloud computing services offered by AWS in China

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