Host city reps for Rugby World Cup brainstorm ways to draw tourists to Japan

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

Representatives of the 12 cities hosting matches for Rugby World Cup in 2019 met in Tokyo for the first time Monday to discuss ways to draw fans to their tourist spots during the 44-day sporting event.

The tournament scheduled between Sept. 20 and Nov. 2 next year is expected to draw 400,000 foreign visitors. The meeting of host cities was organized by the Japan National Tourism Organization to share methods that have worked in the past and to share their tourism know-how.

“It will be the first time the Rugby World Cup is held in a country that does not have roots in rugby . . . and worldwide rugby fans are sure to be interested in exploring other parts of Japan as well,” said Masahiro Kato, a senior official of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Organizing Committee. “I hope that 2019 will not simply become a one-off event, but rather an opportunity to connect each local municipality with world cities.”

The 12 hosts are Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture; Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture; Toyota, Aichi Prefecture; Higashi-Osaka, Osaka Prefecture; Kobe; Oita; Shizuoka Prefecture; Sapporo; Tokyo; Yokohama; Fukuoka and Kumamoto.

In a recent online survey conducted by JNTO that drew responses from about 2,000 fans in the major rugby countries of Australia, France, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand, around 62 percent said they were interested in visiting Japan. Of that group, 88.8 percent said they had never visited and 50 percent said they would visit popular sightseeing spots if they did.

The previous event in England attracted 420,000 foreign visitors. The upcoming tournament in Japan is expected to generate economic benefits to the tune of ¥437.2 billion, according to the World Cup organizer.

“The rugby match period lasts six weeks, which is quite long compared to other sports because there are a few days when no games will be held,” Kato said. “During that time, we expect foreign tourists to explore all over Japan.”

JNTO is considering producing promotional videos in which legendary players will introduce the 12 host cities. It hopes the videos will be broadcast on major foreign TV networks, including Fox Sports and Sky Sports.

Last year, JNTO launched a website called Discover Japan that provides brief introductions to each of the host cities and their tourist spots. So far, the site has drawn more than 500,000 visitors, with most checking out the page detailing each team and the match locations.

In the run-up, Japan will host the Bledisloe Cup, a match between Australia and New Zealand on Oct. 27 at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, followed by a match between Japan and New Zealand at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo on Nov. 3.