It can be difficult to be heard in the Chinese travel marketplace, even for major international tourist destinations. With Chinese travel booming, a majority of the world’s most famous destinations are aggressively marketing themselves in the Chinese market—a market already saturated with advertising for domestic tourism. For smaller and perhaps internationally unknown destinations, success in Chinese outbound tourism could prove incredibly profitable—but reaching the level of prominence for that to happen is in most cases far beyond what they can afford. So, instead of trying to beat destinations such as Shanghai, Tokyo, and Los Angeles at their own game, many smaller destinations in Japan are now embracing innovative, high-tech marketing initiatives such as VR to stand out from the crowd.

Of course, there are plenty of smaller destinations that have—almost by accident—started receiving more Chinese tourists than anyone would perhaps ever have imagined. For instance, the small British village of Kidlington saw a sudden influx of Chinese tourists taking photos and walking around in residents’ gardens. The reason for the influx was that it had proven a convenient stop on the way to a more popular destination. Meanwhile, the relatively small city of Wuppertal in Germany has seen a growing number of Chinese tourists as a result of its ties to Marxism through former resident Friedrich Engels. In Taiwan, a sleepy former mining village called Houtong became a major tourism magnet after word spread about the village’s many feline residents—prompting it to rebrand itself as the Houtong Cat Village.

Some smaller destinations have become popular almost by mistake

As a growing number of Chinese travelers are looking for destinations and experiences beyond the (Chinese) beaten path, the time is certainly right for minor destinations to present a good argument why they’re worth a visit, but this can be harder than it seems.

In Japan, local governments are now embracing the latest technologies to make captivating tourism marketing campaigns targeting these types of experience-seeking independent travelers.

While outspending larger rivals both in Japan and overseas is a non-starter, these lesser-known destinations are hoping that immersive campaigns featuring 360-degree videos and VR technologies will help present a strong argument for why they’re worth a detour from the beaten path.

One example featured in a report by The Japan Times was the city of Bibai in Hokkaido with a population of 25,000. The city published an app called Bibai City VR that gave prospective customers the opportunity to explore the town and its main attractions from the comfort of their own homes. In 2016, it recorded a 30 percent increase of international visitors—this despite being far removed from major tourist destinations such as Tokyo and Osaka.

A 30 percent increase of International visitors is a big deal in small tourist destinations

Seki, another small Japanese city, credits a similar app initiative for revealing tourism resources that the city didn’t even realize were marketable. One of the reservoirs that users can experience in its VR app got nicknamed “Monet’s Pond” for its striking similarities to Claude Monet’s famous paintings.

The timing is also right for such initiatives in Japan. As a result of the staggering growth of Chinese travel to the country, hotel prices have soared in major tourism cities—pushing budget-conscious tour groups to hotels far away from city centers. Communities like Bibai and Seki may not be the places one first thinks about when considering travel to Japan, but after immersing oneself in their beauty and unique attractions with mobile apps and comparing accommodation prices with crowded destinations—they may come off as highly attractive travel choices.

The timing is right for advertising smaller destinations in the Chinese tourism market

The silver lining is that there are no losers as Chinese tourists begin exploring places beyond the beaten path. Chinese tourists get to enjoy truly unique experiences, smaller destinations receive much-welcomed growth in tourism revenue, and the trend mitigates overtourism concerns in the most popular destinations. Lastly, who doesn’t want to have the chance to explore quaint Japanese towns from the comfort of their own homes?

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