TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) – The continued increase in foreign visitors to Japan in recent years should be followed by steady efforts to better utilize local resources in regional areas, so the country can truly thrive through its tourism.

The key to achieving this goal is working to end our nation’s current reliance on hosting international events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, as a means of attracting foreign travelers.

Arrivals to Japan Reach New Benchmark

On Dec.18, the number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2018 exceeded 30 million, marking the first time the figure topped that benchmark. This shows that a good measure of progress is being made in sustained efforts to turn Japan into a country that can prosper as a major destination of international tourism.

However, the fact remains that the increase owes a great deal to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and other international large-scale events to be held here. It is therefore necessary to promote joint efforts by the public and private sectors to rectify the situation, through such means as attracting more foreign sightseers to regional areas nationwide.

“Despite a slowdown in the increase in foreign visitors since July [due to a series of natural disasters], we’ve been fortunate to greet this commemorable day,” Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii said at a ceremony at Kansai Airport on Dec.18, marking the rise in foreign visitors above 30 million. After his speech, Ishii gave a commemorative item to a tourist from Taiwan.

The government is aiming to increase the number of foreign visitors to 40 million in 2020 and 60 million in 2030. This means it is vital to ensure the number of such visitors rises at a faster pace. At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed his confidence in achieving these goals, saying, “The target of raising the figure to 40 million in 2020 has come within range.”

Large-scale international events that will take place in Japan are providing a favorable tailwind for these objectives. They include the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka. All this has raised expectations for a further increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan.

Despite having surpassed the 30 million benchmark, Japan is still falling behind other countries that are abundant in tourist resources, such as France, Spain, the United States and China. For instance, France attracted 86.91 million visitors from overseas in 2017, the highest number in the world. The 2017 figure for Japan was about one-third of that of France.

Airline, Sea Routes Being Shored Up

The government is trying to shore up airline and sea routes as part of efforts to boost the number of foreign visitors. The tourism ministry intends to raise the number of daytime takeoffs and landings for international flights at Haneda Airport from the current 60,000 or so annually to about 99,000 in 2020.

In 2017, a total of 2.52 million foreign nationals visited Japan by cruise ship. To raise the figure to 5 million in 2020, the government will work to refurbish domestic terminal ports.

The government is also trying to ensure the nation is better prepared to accept foreign tourists through various means, including setting up multilingual information boards at tourist spots. Starting on Jan. 7, 2019, the government will collect ¥1,000 in international tourist taxes per person from anyone departing this country.

The government faces questions about whether it will be able to implement effective measures, using such tax revenue as financial resources.

In the private sector, active efforts are also being made to attract more foreign visitors to tourist spots in regional areas, in addition to such long popular destinations as Tokyo, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji.

In recent years, local communities in regional areas are trying to advertise their tourist spots, by focusing on the selected purpose of a trip to each location. Participants in “Sakagura tourism” (sake brewery tourism) can enjoy brands of sake popular among foreign nationals. Meanwhile, “Anime-tourism” visits places linked to hit animation films.

Sakagura tourism organizers include Suehiro Sake Co. in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. “To make sure more people visit Fukushima, it’s important to continue such steady efforts as calling on foreign tourists staying in Tokyo to come here,” said Suehiro President Inokichi Shinjo, 68.

Tokyu Fudosan Holdings Corp., an operator of ski resorts nationwide, has set up a barbecue garden at a ski resort in the Niseko area in Hokkaido. This was part of Tokyu’s efforts to attract people to the area even during the summer, an off-season period for ski resorts.

“We couldn’t utilize our valuable tourist resources [during past summers], but we had lots of visitors [during that period] this year,” said a Tokyu employee in charge of the project.

By News Desk