Japan’s tourism boom is driving demand in unlikely places


The tourism boom, much lauded by the government, has had a number of unintended effects.

Among them is a shortage of hotel rooms, a problem that has transformed the nation into the fastest-growing market for Airbnb.

The rebound in tourism since the 2011 disasters is visible in everything from hotels upgrading their facilities to record interest from people trying to become tour guides.

The government expects the trend will continue until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This is after the number of foreign visitors jumped 47 percent last year to almost 20 million people, with double-digit growth over the previous three years. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies have helped weaken the yen by more than 20 percent against the dollar since he took office in late 2012, which has helped the nation’s appeal for foreign visitors.

The boom is a bright spot in an economy that is struggling to sustain growth. And while tourists snap up everything from cosmetics to condoms, heavy industry and construction are also benefiting.

But the country still has work to do if wants to keep tourists happy. Some 86% of people who passed the guide-interpreter exam in 2015 were English specialists, while only 4 percent were certified for the Chinese language, despite the fact that people from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have topped lists of recent visitors.