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Coming events give Japan chance to shine as travel destination — if it can rise to the occasion, says tourism chief

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Japan was ranked the 11th most popular tourist destination in the world as of last August — and No. 3 in Asia — although it still remained far behind top countries such as France and Spain, figures compiled by the JTA show. | GETTY IMAGES

TOMOHIRO OSAKI reports: Once a tourism underachiever, Japan is riding high like never before. Last year, the nation attracted a record 31 million foreign tourists, topping 30 million for the first time and pulling off nearly a fourfold jump from 2012.

But this is not to say the path to true tourism supremacy has been rosy — or complete. Concerns persist over the shortage of multilingual platforms, a glacial shift toward implementing a cashless payment system and the nation’s inherent proneness to natural disasters.

Hiroshi Tabata, who last July ascended to the helm of the Japan Tourism Agency, the public entity central to Japan’s tourism strategy, says the government is scrambling to take care of these long-held concerns.

“We realize there are many Western tourists worried that Japanese society is not quite ready for English-language communication,” Tabata said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “To this end, we will boost our effort to provide multilingual information and make full use of translation-related tools and apps.”

But the clock is ticking. In the next few years Japan is anticipating a further surge of foreign tourists as it hosts a string of high-profile international events, including this year’s Group of 20 summit and Rugby World Cup, next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, and the World Expo in Osaka in 2025.

Tabata casts these events in a positive light, arguing they provide Japan with a golden opportunity to perfect its status as a tourism-driven economic power.

“This is a huge chance for Japan,” he said. “We will take these opportunities to let the world know what Japan has to offer.”

Japan has witnessed a spike in incoming tourists since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012. A weakened yen, coupled with the administration’s strategic relaxation of visas targeting Asian neighbors such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, helped drive an influx of foreign tourists by leaps and bounds.

Buoyed by the surge, Japan was ranked the 11th most popular tourist destination in the world as of last August — and No. 3 in Asia — although it still remained far behind top countries such as France and Spain, figures compiled by the JTA show.

In fact, the government has been emboldened so much that it now has an ambitious target of luring 40 million tourists by 2020 and 60 million by 2030, despite skepticism among some who say the boom could fizzle once the Olympics are over — a view Tabata dismisses.

“We have another 10 years after 2020 where we can lay the groundwork for an influx of 60 million travelers by amplifying the capacity of airline flights and increasing accommodations in regional areas. … I think Japan has the potential to achieve” the 60 million people goal, he said … (read more)

via The Japan Times

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