• Kyodo

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Hotel stays by visitors to Japan rose an estimated 8 percent to a record 70.88 million in 2016 as the government’s tourism drive bore more fruit, the Japan Tourism Agency said in a preliminary report Friday.

Foreign visitors accounted for 14.3 percent of all 494.18 million stays recorded in the reporting year, up from 13.1 percent in 2015. This included Japanese guests.

The government is aiming to attract 40 million tourists a year by 2020, up from the record of 24.04 million set in 2016, as part of efforts to shore up the economy.

Foreign stays in places outside the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka showed especially solid growth, rising by 13.2 percent. This eclipsed the 4.8 percent increase tallied in the three metro areas.

The pace of the climb has been so fast that hotels in major cities are unable to meet demand.

The 8 percent rise in hotel stays in 2016 was much slower than the 48.1 percent growth logged in 2015. It is also smaller than the 21.8 percent jump in tourists to Japan in 2016.

If the tourism figure exceeds 40 million in 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are held, the agency estimates some 50,000 additional rooms will be needed across the country.

The slower hotel-stay growth partly reflects increasing demand for accommodations offered under the minpaku system, which makes use of rooms in private homes. Cruise ships have also recently been used as accommodations.

By prefecture, Tokyo was at the top with 18.06 million hotel stays, followed by Osaka with 10.26 million and Hokkaido with 6.92 million, the agency said.

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