Osaka bidding to become major terminal for cruise ships from overseas

Kyodo

The Osaka Municipal Government is rolling out the red carpet to lure high-income tourists on cruise ships from Europe, the United States and Asia.

The port of Osaka has fallen behind rivals such as Yokohama, Kobe, and Hakata in Fukuoka in attracting ocean liners, with the trend partly attributed to low name recognition.

Last year, 33 cruise ships arrived at Osaka port, a 1.5-fold increase from 2007, according to the tourism ministry.

Despite the rise, however, the number remains far behind Yokohama, which led the way with 142 passenger liners. Hakata meanwhile welcomed 112 while Kobe drew 110.

Osaka officials, in cooperation with the local chamber of commerce and industry, are touting the port’s proximity to ancient Kyoto and Nara and their numerous historical sites popular with tourists.

“If we successfully attract about 50 cruise ships a year, we predict economic effects will surpass ¥20 billion,” a city official said.

On the morning of May 8, the 116,000-ton cruise ship Diamond Princess arrived at Osaka port, disgorging about 2,000 passengers.

Chamber of commerce head Shigetaka Sato was among those on hand to welcome the tourists disembarking from the 290-meter-long liner operated by Princess Cruise Lines Ltd.

According to the tourism ministry, 1,105 cruise ships visited Japanese ports during the last fiscal year.

An official at the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry said more than 20 million people take part annually in cruise ship tours worldwide, and the number is growing 8 percent each year.

The official explained that the number of tourists from parts of Asia with growing economies has risen particularly sharply, and that an increasing number of ships will likely choose Japanese ports close to their countries.

The city government and the chamber of commerce are looking to expand the liner terminal facilities at Osaka port, which is much smaller than those in Yokohama and Kobe, to help expedite the immigration and customs clearance procedures.

“With the current size, it takes about two hours to finish all procedures for 4,000 passengers,” a city official complained.

The local government plans to invest several billion yen to refurbish the terminal over the next five years.

In addition to its proximity to Kyoto and Nara, the municipal government has also marketed local attractions, including Osaka Castle, large-scale electrical appliance retailers and flagship stores for upscale clothing brands.