JTA still upbeat about reaching 2020 target

by Mariko Kato

Despite the strong yen, the government remains optimistic about achieving its target of attracting 20 million annual foreign visitors by 2020, the head of the Japan Tourism Agency said Wednesday.

Japan attracted 8.4 million tourists from overseas last year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. But the plan to reap the economic benefits presented by 20 million visitors, which includes 850,000 jobs, has gained unprecedented support, JTA Commissioner Yoshiaki Hompo said.

“(Prime Minister Taro) Aso said he would shorten the waiting time at immigration control at Narita airport from 28 minutes to 15 minutes,” he said, adding that another policy was finalized in March to ease visa regulations for Chinese tourists, which the government hopes to increase six-fold to 6 million by 2020.

Hompo said JTA, part of the Land, Infrastructure, Tourism and Transport Ministry, is putting strong pressure on the tourism industry to make Japan more hospitable.

“We are threatening them by saying they have to make more effort” to improve accommodations and other facilities so Japan will be viewed as the premium destination for ease and diversity, he said.

Despite Hompo’s optimism, the 2020 goal might be too ambitious. The goal is based on the assumption that East Asian and Pacific countries will maintain a collective annual economic growth rate of 7.4 percent, and that foreigners visiting Japan will rise accordingly until 2020.

But so far, JNTO data show that inbound tourism in January and February fell an estimated 18 percent and 41 percent, respectively, from a year earlier. The turnout from South Korea, Japan’s largest tourism market, was especially low, dropping to only half of last year’s figures as the yen surged against the won.