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Chubu won’t stop at just 10 million tourists

Chunichi Shimbun

The government achieved its target of seeing 10 million tourists in 2013, thanks largely to the easing of visa requirements for Southeast Asian travelers and the weakening of the yen to fight deflation.

On Dec. 25, a special 3.6-meter signboard was set up in the international arrival lobby at Chubu Centrair Japan International Airport, Nagoya to mark the achievement.

As part of the Shoryudo (rising dragon path) Project, which was designed by the Chubu District Transport Bureau to promote the entire Chubu region to tourists, each area in the region has been working on improving its hospitality to draw more foreigners to Japan.

The joint collaboration involves public and private entities in all nine prefectures in the region — Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Nagano, Fukui, Shiga, Ishikawa, Toyama, and Shizuoka — with Centrair in Aichi serving as its main gateway.

According to the Shoryudo Project Promotion Association, 2.5 million foreigners stayed overnight in the region between January and September, up 32 percent from the same period the previous year. This growth rate is above the nationwide average of 25 percent, with more visitors coming especially from China and Southeast Asia.

“I took the shinkansen and visited Lake Hamana. I like Japan because it has beautiful nature and the people are friendly,” said a 24-year-old woman from Sri Lanka who was interviewed at Centrair while catching a flight home.

The Shoryudo Project, named to evoke a geographical image of a dragon rising from Mie Prefecture through the region and toward the Noto Peninsula, was established in January 2012.

Its promotional body has participated in international travel fairs in Southeast Asia and China, and invited overseas travel agencies, media outlets and famous bloggers to visit and sample the local delicacies of the region, including “tebasaki” (chicken wings) and “hitsumabushi” (grilled eel on rice).

The promotion body came up with different themes highlighting the region’s best offerings for each of the four seasons and showcased them on its website, with English, Chinese and Korean explanations.

The association also introduced the use of “welcome cards” that allow visitors to get discounts or special presents at participating stores and restaurants, enlisting JR and private railways to sell them in discounted sets.

However, the association still faces challenges, including the need to provide more visitor information and road signs in foreign languages, and ensure tourists can access information more easily on the Internet.

To increase the number of visitors from Southeast Asia, the group is also looking into preparing prayer rooms and halal food to make the region more attractive to Muslims.

“There are still many issues we need to work on,” staff from the Chubu District Transport Bureau said in a statement.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Dec. 25.