The government has set a goal of increasing the number of visitors from Southeast Asia to 2 million in 2016, a 2.5-fold rise, according to the 2013 white paper on tourism adopted Tuesday.
To help meet the target, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet decided at a meeting the same day to waive visa requirements for tourists from Thailand and Malaysia and to permit the issuance of multiple-entry visas for Filipino and Vietnamese travelers, starting this summer.
The eased visa requirements for the fast-growing Southeast Asian nations are part of efforts to spur economic growth.
“I ask for your cooperation to let many people from around the world directly experience beautiful Japan,” Abe told a meeting of Cabinet ministers on tourism.
Of the 8.37 million foreign visitors Japan welcomed last year, 780,000, or 9.3 percent, were from Southeast Asia. The white paper called for more efforts to attract visitors from this region, as they are friendly to Japan and their middle-class and affluent citizens have been on the rise.
The document underlined the need for the domestic tourism industry to cater to the needs of Muslims by offering spaces for prayers at hotels and other locations and providing halal cuisine.
As visitors from South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong accounted for 65 percent of all overseas arrivals in Japan in 2012, the white paper also called for attracting more travelers from other countries “to establish a system under which foreigners visit Japan in a stable manner — regardless of external factors.”
The number of Chinese visitors to Japan plunged 40 percent in the final quarter of last year from 2011 after Tokyo purchased a major part of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, claimed by China and Taiwan in the East China Sea, from their private owner in September.
The government aims to raise the number of foreign visitors to 18 million by 2016 and Abe has presented a long-term goal of boosting this figure beyond 30 million by 2030 in his government’s draft strategy for economic growth.