Japan saw record foreign visitors, tourist spending in 2016

Kyodo, JIJI

The number of visitors to Japan from overseas rose 21.8 percent to 24.04 million in 2016 and their spending grew 7.8 percent to ¥3.75 trillion ($33 billion), both all-time highs, the government said Tuesday.

But the pace of increase for both was much slower than in the previous year, when the number of visitors surged 47.1 percent and spending soared 71.5 percent.

The Japan Tourism Agency attributed the 2016 rise in spending to the expansion of duty-free items and relaxed visa requirements for tourists.

It also traced the slowdown to a stronger yen, China’s economic slowdown and the earthquakes that hit Kumamoto Prefecture in April.

Chinese travelers spent an estimated ¥1.48 trillion last year — 39.4 percent of the total — followed by travelers from Taiwan at ¥524.5 billion and South Korea at ¥357.8 billion.

By category, spending on shopping — the largest share at 38.1 percent of the total — fell 1.9 percent to ¥1.43 trillion due to a decline in the purchase of luxury items and home appliances on the back of the sharp appreciation of the yen around summer and an economic slowdown in China.

Spending on accommodations increased 13.0 percent to ¥1.01 trillion, while spending on food and drink rose 18.0 percent to ¥757.4 billion.

Average spending per visitor fell 11.5 percent from a year earlier to ¥155,896.

If spending per person fails to grow further, it may be difficult for the government to meet its 2020 target of ¥8 trillion and the economy will not do as well as projected.

To offset the slowdown in Chinese on bakugai shopping sprees, Japan needs to attract wealthy Western tourists, who tend to stay longer, analysts suggested.

Hideo Shioya, the research chief on tourism economics at the Japan Travel Bureau Foundation, said the government should attract more long-stay tourists by strengthening efforts to create cultural experience programs in rural areas and increasing online promotional materials in English.

Of the total visitors last year, Chinese accounted for the largest portion at 26.5 percent, totaling 6.37 million visitors, up 27.6 percent from the previous year, followed by 5.09 million from South Korea and 4.17 million from Taiwan.

China hit the 6 million mark for the first time, the Japan National Tourism Organization said.

In a bid to attract 40 million tourists in 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics, the government is planning to upgrade airports and seaports, as well as improve access to national parks and cultural attractions.