The number of foreign visitors to Japan fell 0.4 percent in November from a year earlier to 2,441,300, declining for the second straight month due to a continued sharp fall in tourists from South Korea amid a deterioration in bilateral ties, government data showed Wednesday.
If the trend continues, the number of foreign visitors is likely to total around 32 million this year, making the government’s goal of 40 million in 2020 a difficult achievement.
“A number of measures are necessary in order to meet the target of 40 million visitors,” Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Hiroshi Tabata said at a news conference. “We’ll develop programs to create demand and attract more visitors.”
According to the agency, the number of foreign visitors totaled 29,355,700 in the first 11 months of the year, up 2.8 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The number of South Korean visitors fell 65.1 percent to 205,000 in November, following a 65.5 percent decrease in October and a 58.1 percent drop in September.
Bilateral relations have soured since South Korean court rulings last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate laborers forced to work during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
The row has escalated in recent months into a tit-for-tat trade dispute, prompting each country to revoke the other’s preferential trade status.
However, with the drop in the number of visitors from South Korea beginning to level off, Tabata expressed hope there would be a recovery in visitors from that country.
“Some travel firms in South Korea are starting to see a pickup in reservations for trips to Japan,” he said.
To meet the target of 40 million inbound visitors next year, the country would need average growth in visitor numbers of 13 percent in both 2019 and 2020 to achieve the goal.
While visitor numbers are expected to rise when Tokyo hosts the Summer Games next year, some previous host cities have experienced a fall in inbound visitors during the events as travelers seek to avoid large crowds and sharp increases in accommodation fees.
The government will increase the number of international flights at both Haneda and Narita airports serving Tokyo in the hope of reaching the target.
By country and region, China led with 750,900 visitors in November, up 21.7 percent, followed by Taiwan at 392,100, up 11.4 percent, and South Korea in third place.