• Kyodo

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It is crucial to draw more foreign tourists to smaller cities and rural areas in Japan as Tokyo and other big cities will face a shortage of facilities before the number of overseas visitors hits the government’s target, a travel association said Tuesday.

“The supply of planes, buses and hotels will likely fall into quite tight conditions” in major cities if foreign tourists continue to increase toward 2020, Hiromi Tagawa, chairman of the Japan Association of Travel Agents, said at a news conference in Tokyo.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to bring the number to 20 million by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as part of his economic growth strategy.

Popular sightseeing spots are centered in big cities. More than half of the foreigners coming to Japan visit Tokyo and over a third go to Osaka, according to data from JATA.

One of every five travelers staying at a hotel in Tokyo is now a foreigner, while the rate of room vacancies in the capital is hovering at only around 20 percent, the data show.

The number of foreign travelers is expected to rise 30 percent to a record 13 million this year, said Tagawa, who is also chairman of the JTB Corp. travel agency.

The government is introducing steps to meet the target such as waiving visas for tourists from more countries.

Overseas visitors topped 10 million for the first time last year in Japan. Most of them are tourists from Taiwan, South Korea and other Asian countries due to the weakening yen and growing economies in their countries.

“Easing visa requirements isn’t enough,” Tagawa said, however.

The government’s target “would be pie in the sky unless more infrastructure is built” near smaller tourist places such as hot springs.

There are enough hotel rooms there, but local airports need to be open to more foreign passengers and more tour buses and other transportation should be available to attract foreigners, he said.

Deregulation and more aggressive involvement by regional governments are necessary, he said.

For example, local airports could lower their landing fees or make them free. Local governments can determine the fee on their own at about 70 percent of a total of 98 airports in Japan, he said.

It is also an urgent task for the travel industry to start a training program for tour operators to provide quality services, JATA Vice Chairman Kazuaki Maruo said.

Such efforts should help prevent foreigners from experiencing problems and encourage foreigners to visit Japan again, he said.

He suggested introduction of a registration system for tour operators.

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