Terrie's Take: Japan at the Bangkok Travel Show, 30-Min. Cancer Test, Stem Cell Cookbook, Novartis, and ODA

Terrie's Take - AkihabaraNews.com

Terrie’s Take is a selection of Japan-centric news collected and collated by long-time resident and media business professional Terrie Lloyd. AkihabaraNews is pleased to present Terrie’s learned perspective; we all could use another take on the news - here’s Terrie’s:

• • •

Terrie’s Take on February 24, 2014


  • Bangkok Travel Show Successful for Japan


  • 30-minute cancer test
  • Riken to offer "cook book" for stem cells
  • BoJ waits for government to catch up
  • Novartis office raided
  • ODA opening many doors for Japan

Bangkok Travel Show Successful for Japan
We are down in Bangkok, Thailand, to attend the 14th Thai International Travel Fair, taking place from the February 20th until today (23rd), 2014. We're not normally travel fair groupies, but felt that we needed to be at this one, since it is at the center of the latest trend in Japanese inbound tourism -- the phenomenon of China-Plus-One -- or the new strategy of the Japanese government to target customers in Southeast Asia in preference to the previously high-spending Chinese. The presence of at least 63 Japanese companies led by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) is ample evidence of this strategy being put into place.

Not that the Chinese inbound (to Japan) market is that bad. After the setback caused by the Senkaku islands sabre rattling last year, in fact, a recent Travelzoo China survey has found that Japan is now the most preferred overseas travel destination for mainland Chinese, level pegging with the USA. As a result, tourist flows are up 96% year-on-year. Travelzoo reckons Chinese tourists are also becoming more sophisticated, and besides mere shopping are now looking for more history, food and culture, things which Japan offers in abundance.

But although the Chinese are high spenders, the Japanese government clearly thinks a more reliable future is to be found in SE Asia, as demonstrated by the massive Japanese presence at the Bangkok fair at the Queen Sirikit convention center. The fair itself was an interesting microcosm of international tourism destinations all competing for attention from an estimated 200,000 Thai potential tourists who are collectively enjoying a growing economy and rising discretionary incomes (pending political revolutions not withstanding). The travel fair featured this year more than 1,000 booths of both foreign government travel organizations and their local Thai travel agency handlers.

The Japanese presence was located far from the main receiving doors from the MRT subway station, and in fact the first country we saw when entering was the Korean booth, which was both well designed and well organized. For a moment we thought that JNTO had messed up and let their biggest competitors steal the show. However, as you took a right turn by the Korean booth and wandered down past Turkey and several other countries, you were suddenly in Japan Land, which despite the political protests in the streets, was teeming with people.

Almost all the big players were there: major travel agencies like JTB and ClubTourism, hotel chains like the Prince and up-and-coming luxury operator Hoshino Resorts, and shopping havens like Isetan/Mitsukoshi and Laox. But what was surprising was the lack of presence by the nation's major airlines -- both JAL and ANA were absent. Conversely, there was a large number of ground transport companies, primarily train and bus operators. We assume that means that the airlines didn't feel the need to promote themselves, while the ground transport guys are feeling the pinch of competition from the Low-cost Carrier (LCC) airlines. Actually, most of these ground operators have complete business ecosystems thanks to being part of a conglomerate, such as hotels, tour companies, etc., and so any discounting they might offer tourists at the show, on train/bus tickets, can easily be recouped as those customers move on down the engagement funnel. The issue is that most of them are generally not cut out to handle foreign tourists yet and this was noticeable at the trade fair. Still, very interesting to find them there.

Another surprise was to see the ward/city of Shibuya representing itself as a travel destination. This of course makes sense, since pretty much every Thai tourist with a camera wants to get a shot of the crowds passing through Shibuya Crossing -- it's a kind of rite of passage. Anyway, Shibuya's presenting itself as a standalone destination no doubt heralds the start of more subsectioning and branding of different cities of Tokyo (and later Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka?), and thus will create more players and more budget spent to pull in the tourists.

The overall fair was jam-packed with people, organizers estimate total attendance of 200,000, and the Japan area had by far the highest amount of foot traffic on the days we were there. Estimates last year were that about 40,000-60,000 people visited the Japan booths, and repeating exhibitors told us that they thought that the numbers were up about 20%-30% this year. The most popular booths were those running small competitions for trinkets and food, which reminded us that if we ever do another trade show booth ourselves in Asia (not just Thailand, this works really well in Japan too), to buy a bunch of snacks and have a game for passersby to enjoy and to ask for their personal contact information in return. A good 2-day trade show in Japan can yield 2,000-3,000 name cards or email addresses with this simple ploy.

Travel agent HIS was everywhere, and appeared to be a senior sponsor of the overall fair as well. They even train-jacked some of the MRT and BTS carriages to advertise their vastly increased presence in Thailand. From what we can tell, HIS is replicating their successful low-cost charter tours model to Thailand and their offerings are no longer just tied to Japan. They have adapted well to the Thai mindset, and had a local young male singer as their celebrity on posters in major public transport locations. The target is obviously university students and young office ladies, much as it was originally in Japan as well.

"Yuru-kyara" (character mascots for PR) were in ample supply, and although we've always felt these humans-in-furry-football mascots to be childish and awkward, Thai single women love them as much as the Japanese do. Many photo sessions in front of characters' home booths will ensure that the travel fair will live on social media for days to come. Now, to be fair, there were also some samurai, such as the hotelier from Yamanashi who did a pretty decent sword swing, and train conductors too. But they really didn't get the attention that the character mascots did. Yup, another lesson to file away for our next trade show...

Unedited i-Phone video of the display area and crowd is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wFEoItMdww. Warning: this is boring to watch if you're not fascinated by trade shows... :-)

30-minute cancer test
Most cancer tests take at least 3 days to 3 weeks to analyze blood work and confirm/deny a patient's cancer diagnosis. Now a University of Tokyo/Nikon team are about to introduce a new blood pattern matching test that can conduct the same tests in just 30-minutes. The test views on a transparent slide the patient's RNA, using just 1ml of blood. The test has been found to be 80% accurate for identifying breast cancer, which is comparable to existing blood tests. The new method will be incorporated into a self-contained testing machine the size of a small printer, and should be ready by 2020, if not sooner. (Source: TT commentary from asia.nikkei.com, Feb 21, 2014)

Riken to offer "cook book" for stem cells
After Riken dropped the bombshell news that one of its researchers had developed a simple method of stressing blood cells so that they revert to stem cells, there has been a huge demand (naturally) of other research groups around the world looking to replicate the technique. Problem is that they are unable to do so based on the simple procedural explanations given in the relevant Nature magazine article. Thus, in order to allay fears of fraud, the Riken Center for Developmental Biology has said that it will publish a detailed procedural description of how to replicate the experiments. ***Ed: No word on when the work will be published, but we imagine that they are also double-checking their patent application, amongst other things.** (Source: TT commentary from wsj.com, Feb 23, 2014)

BoJ waits for government to catch up
Good article from William Pesek on how there appears to be a lack of will by the LDP to follow through on structural reform after the aggressive monetary lead set by the governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda. Pesek argues that because the BOJ's efforts to devalue the yen and rev up the stock market have been successful, they seem to have removed the pressure on the government to make deep changes of its own. Thus, the likelihood of "Abenomics" failing through due to a lack of depth of regulatory change is increased. Pesek also convincingly argues that the BOJ's move to double its easy lending to banks last week is actually a signal to the government that if Abenomics does fail it won't be because of a failure to act by the BOJ. ***Ed: Problem is, one wonders if the LDP's conflicted special interest groups will let Abe actually make the changes that need to happen.** (Source: TT commentary from bloomberg.com, Feb 21, 2014)

Novartis office raided
What do you get when you have an over-eager product manager who wants to make sure that the company's next block buster drug doesn't fail? Well, you buy in the technical data from a friendly university or two, to provide studies that show just how effective the drug is. We suspect that this kind of professionals-in-the-pocket test buying is common in the industry, but the problem for Novartis is that the manager involved wasn't smart enough (or maybe was just too lazy) to make the numbers look convincing. As an outside medical expert pointed out, the data set numbers were just too similar to be independent studies, and this gave the show away. Bad news for Novartis, which apparently stands to earn about JPY100bn from sales of the product, Diovan, this fiscal year. Unfortunately, it's also the second time that the company has been caught out "over-exercising" its relationships with outside academics, and so the expectation is that the health ministry will come down hard on them. (Source: TT commentary from genengnews.com, Feb 21, 2014)

ODA opening many doors for Japan
An ODA white paper on Japan's efforts to provide developmental aid to SE Asian countries shows the level of commitment the government has to the idea that international government-to-government investment today will build substantial ties and private companies trade tomorrow. In 2012, Japan's ODA budget was US$10.6bn, down 2.3% from FY2011, but still 5th in the world after the USA, UK, Germany, and France. More interesting are the top recipients and how they fit into Japan's strategic planning. Vietnam was at the top of the table, receiving US$1.64bn, followed by Afghanistan with US$873m (no doubt to keep the USA happy), and India with US$704m. Then in a misleading 17th place is Myanmar. We say "misleading", because while the absolute amount of new ODA to Myanmar was small, they also received a separate huge loan (for some reason not considered ODA) of US$1.1bn -- meaning that Myanmar was infact the second largest recipient of Japanese government largesse. (Source: TT commentary from globalpost.com, Feb 21, 2014)

• • •

That was Terrie's Take.

Have your own? Let us know down below.

• • •

Images: Terrie's Take; AkihabaraNews