Japan, United States to sign tourism pact

by Sayuri Daimon

Japan and the United States will sign a tourism promotion pact Friday in an effort to promote travel and revitalize their sagging tourism industries, which are still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The pact will set a numerical target of 4 percent annual growth in travel between the two countries and create a public-private tourism expansion council, U.S. government sources said Tuesday.

The deal is to be signed Friday by transport minister Chikage Ogi and Secretary of Commerce Don Evans at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. The signing will be witnessed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker, the sources said.

It will be the first time Japan has signed a bilateral tourism promotion pact at the Cabinet level.

According to the agreement, the two countries will aim for 20 percent growth in the number of tourists over the next five years.

A tourism export expansion council headed by Evans and Ogi will be established to discuss detailed campaigns for both countries. It will be composed of local government leaders and representatives from airlines, bus companies, hotels and other elements of the tourism industry. Working groups will be established, including product development, education and training.

To monitor their efforts, the two ministers will meet twice a year, with the first meeting expected to be held in June in the U.S., the sources said.

Though it is uncertain how the governmental efforts will help boost the industry, both the U.S. and Japan are expected to tout the pact as their first concrete economic achievement since Koizumi and President George Bush took office.

Japanese tourists are an important source of income for the U.S. By volume, Japan is the third-largest source of travelers after Canada and Mexico. But the Japanese inject as much as 1.6 trillion yen ($14 billion) into the U.S. economy each year — the most among all foreign travelers.

Since last fall, the number of Japanese travelers to Hawaii has climbed back to about 90 percent, but the figure for those who venture to the mainland is hovering at about 60 percent of the pre-Sept. 11 level.

For Japan, the agreement is expected to provide a welcome boost to its languishing tourism industry. While the Japanese have shied away from traveling abroad since the attacks, they are also being restrained by their third recession in a decade.

Japan’s efforts to attract foreign visitors haven’t met with a great deal of success.

According to Japanese government statistics, the number of U.S. citizens who travel to Japan ranks third among all foreign visitors after South Korea and Taiwan, with Americans spending about 200 billion yen ($1.75 billion).

The Japanese tourism industry is counting on the government’s support in the areas of publicity and training programs for tour guides, the sources said.