Japan travel agent body to certify tour operator service quality

Kyodo

The Japan Association of Travel Agents said Wednesday it will start certifying the service qualities of parties handling foreign tourists as part of efforts to boost visitors from abroad, whose numbers have fallen since the 2011 natural and nuclear disasters and recently reignited territorial tiffs.

The association said recent fierce price competition among tour operators has caused the quality of services to deteriorate. Foreign visitors, especially those joining low-budget tours, are often forced to buy souvenirs at inflated prices or take part in expensive optional tours, it said.

In 2012, the number of foreign tourists to Japan increased 34.6 percent year-on-year to around 8,368,100, after plunging the previous year in the wake of the March 2011 megaquake-tsunami calamity and the resultant nuclear disaster, according to government data. Yet the 2012 figure was still down 2.8 percent from 2010, when foreign visitors hit a record-high. The number of visitors from China and South Korea posted notable declines last year, affected by Japan’s territorial disputes with the two countries.

Under the newly established certification system, lawyers and tourism experts will evaluate tour operators from the perspective of legal compliance and services levels, and certify those that satisfy its criteria. A roughly 100-item checklist will be used to gauge whether tour guides have adequate foreign language skills and if they convey to tourists a sincere and respectful attitude. Operators must also pay due heed to the cultural and religious backgrounds of tour participants, including ensuring food served to them at restaurants does not contain prohibited ingredients.

“We hope this system will help appeal to foreigners by showing them that Japan is a safe and attractive country to visit,” said the association’s secretary general, Kazuyoshi Hasegawa.

The association in April will start soliciting registered tour operators who wish to obtain the certification, and introduce certified operators on websites from June.