Record 9.4 million foreign tourists visited Osaka in 2016

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Over 9.4 million foreign tourists visited Osaka last year, the largest number ever, Osaka tourism authorities announced earlier this week.

The figure represents a 31 percent increase on 2015, and is more than triple the number of foreign nationals who visited the city in 2013, officials added.

The total included 3.73 million visitors from mainland China, an increase of 37 percent on the previous year. Another 1.58 million visitors were from South Korea, up 46 percent from a year before, and 1.26 visitors were from Taiwan, a 19 percent increase.

For the past several years, the tourism boom has meant Osaka has had one of the highest hotel occupancy rates of any major city in the country, nearly 90 percent at certain times of the year.

A number of factors have been cited for the influx of foreign tourists into Osaka city and prefecture, including an increase in the number of discount airlines from Kansai International Airport serving regional cities in East Asia, relaxed visa requirements, and the proximity of Osaka to other popular tourist destinations such as Kyoto and Kobe.

While the number of foreign tourists, especially from China, has increased greatly, Osaka is hoping to attract more Western tourists, especially from the United States and Australia, who spend more per person while in Japan than those from most Asian countries.

Traditionally, Osaka has emphasized the importance of Asian flights to Kansai airport, often downplaying the importance of tourism from other parts of the world.

The result is that there are few direct flights to North America and Oceania compared to Narita and Haneda airports.

Because overseas travel companies tend to tout Kyoto, until last year ranked the world’s No. 1 city for tourism by American magazine Travel + Leisure, as being an easy bullet train ride from Tokyo, the fact that the ancient capital is actually closer to Kansai airport than Tokyo is not well understood in the U.S.

However, city officials are hoping that this year will see an increase in the number of high-end tourists from America and other Western countries, as Osaka was recently named by The New York Times as one of 52 places to go in the world, especially for gourmands.