Foreign visitors to Japan tipped to reach 24 million in 2016

JIJI, Staff Report

The number of visitors to Japan is expected to reach a record high of around 24 million in 2016, Akihiko Tamura, chief of the Japan Tourism Agency, said.

The strong estimate, released Wednesday, reflects increases in international flights to Japan, including those run by low-cost carriers, and an uptick in the number of cruise ships visiting the country. The easing of visa requirements by the government is also a factor.

Japan is attracting visitors from not only Asian countries including China but also European nations and the United States.

The government has set a goal of 40 million visitors annually by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics and Paralympics.

The number has been “increasing steadily,” Tamura said at a news conference.

The full-year figure topped 10 million for the first time in 2013.

For the 40-million target, the government plans to encourage more travelers to visit local areas and utilize the minpaku (private stay) for travelers, a step aimed at solving accommodation shortages mainly in urban areas.

As the minpaku service is currently allowed only in special national strategic zones, including Tokyo’s Ota Ward and Osaka Prefecture, Tamura said the government hoped to submit a bill designed to ease relevant restrictions to next year’s ordinary session of the Diet.

“The minpaku service is important as we try to meet various accommodation needs,” Tamura stressed.

On Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga pledged to do everything possible to further boost inbound tourism, calling it “a pillar” of Japan’s policies to reinvigorate provincial regions and raise the whole country’s growth potential.

Meanwhile, year-on-year growth rates of the number of foreign tourists and their estimated consumption in Japan have both slowed compared with last year.

The cumulative number of foreign visitors to Japan in January-October grew 23.3 percent from the same period of last year to an estimated 20,113,000, exceeding 20 million for the first time in the period, according to data announced by the Japan National Tourism Organization on Wednesday.

In October, visitors to Japan increased 16.8 percent to 2,135,900, the highest level for the month. The figure was also the second-highest for any month, after 2,296,451 marked in July this year, the JNTO said.

The growth in the month was partly backed by a surge in visitors from China during long holidays for its national foundation day.

By country or region, the number of visitors from mainland China was the highest, at 506,200, up 13.6 percent, followed by South Korea at 449,600, up 21.2 percent, and Taiwan at 354,500, up 3.2 percent.

Visitors from the United States surged 24.2 percent to 119,500, while those from Australia jumped 27.3 percent to 37,700. British visitors were up 22.0 percent at 32,000.

Visitors from Canada increased by 35.6 percent to 29,700 and those from Germany by 21.5 percent to 22,900, both record highs for any month.