• Kyodo

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The number of foreign visitors has risen faster than last year, with more than 10 million arriving in the first six months, the Japan Tourism Agency said Tuesday.

It took about seven months to reach the 10 million threshold in 2015, when a record 19.74 million foreign nationals visited Japan. If the rate is sustained, annual arrivals will top 20 million this year.

Separately, the government said Tuesday it will allow hotel operators to add up to 50 percent extra floor space to cope with the surge.

Monthly arrivals hit 1.89 million in May, a record high for the month and up 15.3 percent from last year. This followed a record 2.08 million visitors in April, during the nation’s famed cherry blossom season.

Other factors encouraging tourism are an increase in the range of airline routes and the relaxation of visa requirements for Southeast Asians. Officials say expanded tax breaks for tourists are a further attraction.

JTA officials said the arrivals topped 10 million this year on June 5. The six-month tally has marked 10 million for four years in a row, but this year the total has been achieved faster than ever before, they said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has placed sightseeing as one of the pillars of the nation’s economic growth strategy, setting a target to boost the number of annual overseas tourists to 40 million in 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympics.

Experts expect foreign tourists to increase further this summer but say a slowdown of the Chinese economy and the stronger yen may dampen the trend.

The number of South Koreans visiting Kyushu fell after quakes rattled the island in April. South Korean nationals usually comprise the bulk of foreign tourists in Kyushu because of their country’s close proximity to it.

Meanwhile, there has been intense discussion of whether the tourism targets are feasible given that some hotels on the main tour routes are running at near full capacity.

On Monday, the government decided to let operators of accommodation facilities multiply their room floor space by half as much again.

This could see hotels being refurbished or rebuilt with greater capacity or having floors added.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry informed municipality offices of the decision the same day.

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