Japan’s tourism boom is spreading economic benefits to rural areas: report

Kyodo

An increasing number of foreign tourists are staying at hotels and inns in rural areas, spreading the positive economic impact of Japan’s tourism boom across the country, a government report said Tuesday.

Stays by foreign tourists outside the metropolitan areas surrounding Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya accounted for over 40 percent of the total for the first time in 2017, according to the white paper on tourism, approved by the Cabinet the same day.

With the government aiming to lift the ratio to 50 percent ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the report underscored plans to enhance necessary measures to attain the goal.

According to the report, the top five prefectures in terms of growth in number of stays by foreign tourists in 2017 compared to 2012 levels were Kagawa, Saga, Aomori, Okinawa and Okayama. The five prefectures saw particularly strong demand on the back of new or increased flights linking them with China and South Korea.

As examples of how to attract foreign tourists, the white paper referred to unlimited ride tickets offered by a railway company in the Shikoku region and events held in Saga in line with the release of a Thai movie, which featured locations in the prefecture.

As the five prefectures saw more hotel construction, the white paper concluded that the rise in foreign tourist stays helped spur local economies, while calling for local authorities to tailor measures to lure tourists with their own characteristics.

Tourism is a pillar of the growth strategy of the government, which aims to increase the annual number of foreign travelers to Japan to 40 million by 2020 and to 60 million by 2030. Last year, a record-high 28.7 million tourists visited Japan.

Viewing tourism as a key for revitalizing rural economies, the government hopes to see more foreign people visiting areas beyond cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya.

The white paper noted the need to increase the number of repeat tourists to Japan by presenting them with options to explore rural areas for a fresh experience.

The report also called for improving tourist satisfaction through such measures as the wider use of multilingual translation systems, the promotion of barrier-free facilities and the reduction of the wait time for immigration checks at airports.

The government pledged to enhance the attractiveness of regions outside major cities by utilizing cultural assets and national parks in rural areas.

Meanwhile, encouraging travelers to observe etiquette and resolving traffic jams were raised as challenges to address as the country aims to develop sustainable tourism that can coexist with local citizens’ lives.

According to the Tourism Agency, the average foreign tourist spent roughly ¥150,000 last year. The government aims to boost the amount to ¥200,000 so as to achieve the goal of raising overall spending by foreign tourists to ¥800 billion per year by 2020.

The agency’s panel of experts has recommended the promotion of local festivals and the training of tour guides who can explain Japanese culture to attract more tourists to remote areas for longer stays.