NEW YORK – Travel agencies and organizations from Japan pitched the country as a perfect destination for American tourists at the annual New York Times Travel Show, which opened on Friday.
“One of our main efforts is to disperse travelers throughout Japan,” said Keiko Matsuura, a spokeswoman for the Japan National Tourism Organization. “We are trying to introduce lesser-known regions.”
Akita Inu Tourism was among the bodies present at the exhibition, promoting its “land of Akita dogs” in the prefecture. Inu is the Japanese word for “dog.” As a special destination marketing organization in Japan, Akita Inu Tourism receives funding from the government to promote the area in a bid to revitalize its economy. The area is known to be heavily burdened by an aging population.
Shin Osuka, chief marketing officer at Akita Inu Tourism, said he hopes the organization can become a role model for other areas that have a rapidly aging population. “We have a social mission,” he said.
Heartland Japan is a new travel website operator hoping to draw foreign tourists beyond the three most popular cities — Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo — and give them an “authentic” local experience so they can learn about Japan’s culture.
Launched in March last year, the company offers a walking tour of the Aso volcano in Kumamoto Prefecture and gives visitors a chance to speak with local residents who lived through the powerful earthquakes that struck the prefecture in 2016.
According to the JNTO, the total number of foreign visitors to Japan was around 31.19 million in 2018, a record high, while the number of U.S. tourists represented about 1.53 million of the total, up 11 percent from the previous year.
Japan is aiming to attract 40 million travelers in 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. To meet the target, the government has implemented measures such as relaxing visa rules and expanding airports to accommodate budget airlines.
The three-day travel show, one of the biggest of its kind on the U.S. East Coast, brings together travel representatives from over 170 countries.