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Japan Fighting Tourism-Related Scams to Rip Off Visitors from Abroad

Foreign tourists board a bus after visiting a duty-free shop in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district in January 2016. | KYODO

Foreign tourists board a bus after visiting a duty-free shop in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district in January 2016. | KYODO

Japan’s government has begun cracking down on unauthorized tourist-related businesses that are allegedly ripping off visitors from abroad.

Such rip-offs include travel agencies that involve “land operators” (tour service operators), that arrange lodging, shopping and other holiday activities. Shady land operators, for example, may use free guides and work with specific duty-free shops. The guides take foreign tourists to the shops in return for handsome kickbacks from sales of goods at unfairly high prices, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

The Fukuoka Prefectural Police announced last March that a land operator had been indicted after using as tour guides a Chinese man and woman not authorized to work who earned ¥75 million by taking tourists from China to accomplice duty-free shops.

Foreign visitors to Japan have lodged increasing complaints about such scams with the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

One visitor said medicine bought at the strong recommendation of a duty-free shop in Japan turned out to be fake when checked in the person’s home country.

The government is concerned because it is promoting tourism as a pillar of its strategy for economic growth.

While travel agencies are legally required to be registered with the central and local governments, land operators are not subject to the travel agency law. As part of efforts to crack down on fraudulent practices, the tourism agency will submit a bill to the current Diet session to revise the law to require registration of land operators.

In a survey last June to prepare for the legal revision, the agency found that there were at least 864 land operators. Some 70 percent of 293 operators that replied to a questionnaire said they took tourists to souvenir shops.

Among other survey findings, 822 of 2,320 travel agencies were using land operators.

The bill for the legal revision envisions that land operators will be… (read more)

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