The Japan National Tourism Organization will promote travel for experiencing nature in rural areas as a centerpiece of its strategy for attracting visitors from abroad after the novel coronavirus epidemic subsides, JNTO chief Satoshi Seino has said.

The JNTO plans to work with local governments for the initiative, Seino said in a recent interview, noting that the envisaged nature-themed campaign is aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus by attracting tourists to areas that are not crowded.

The number of foreign visitors had been steadily growing up until 2019, when a record 31.88 million overseas travelers came to Japan.

However, the tightening of entry and travel restrictions related to the coronavirus crisis brought the number of visitors from abroad down to some 1,700 in May this year, making it very difficult for the Japanese government to achieve its target of attracting 40 million visitors to the country this year.

The three metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka were the main target destinations for many of those who visited Japan before the coronavirus pandemic.

“We won’t actively encourage foreigners to come to” closed, crowded and close-contact areas, Seino said, adding that the JNTO will focus on attracting visitors in ways to help them enjoy Japan’s nature instead while avoiding the “three Cs.”

He said it is also important for rural regions to prepare an environment for accepting overseas visitors.

The JNTO held a webinar in mid-June, during which the current situation regarding inbound tourism and the state-affiliated body’s future plans were explained to so-called destination management organizations, or entities designed to boost tourism in regional areas, and local governments.

“I want to think about (the future of inbound tourism) with people in rural areas,” Seino said, pledging to put efforts into attracting visitors who will stay in Japan for long periods to enjoy the rural scenery of the country.

He also said that the value of consumption by inbound travelers is important in addition to the number of visitors, and that he hopes to boost their per-capita spending through expanding experience-based tourism and increasing long-term and repeat visitors.

Seino became head of the JNTO in April 2018 after serving as president of East Japan Railway Co. , or JR East, and then as chairman of the railway operator.

He also served as head of the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization, covering Tohoku’s six north-eastern prefectures, including Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, which were hit particularly hard by the powerful March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

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