Two years ago the government started to promote tourism, partly to increase domestic demand and to raise the No. 2 world economy’s claim on tourism revenues (No. 26 in the world in 2007).

In October 2008, the government set up the Japan Tourism Agency as part of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. But the government’s fiscal 2008 white paper on tourism shows that the current economic downturn is taking a toll. The government has set a goal of getting the Japanese people, on average, to spend at least four nights a year sightseeing within Japan by fiscal 2010. In fiscal 2007, the number stood at 2.42 nights, down 16 percent from the peak year of fiscal 2005, according to a survey of 18,000 Japanese, which was cited in the white paper.

In fiscal 2007 the average number of domestic sightseeing tours that include at least one overnight stay was 1.5 for people aged 20 or over, down 15 percent from the peak year of fiscal 2005. The figure for people in their 60s, who travel the most, was 1.86, down 19 percent from the peak of 2.31 in fiscal 2004.

The white paper says that people in their 60s have become reluctant to travel because of anxieties about their financial future and physical health. People in their 20s say that going on sightseeing tours is difficult due to a drop in income and fewer days off. It is clear that tourism will pick up only when people are reassured that their jobs are stable and they receive higher wages and more vacation time. The government should also develop tourism resources that are more attractive to people.

The government has set the goal of getting 20 million Japanese tourists a year to go abroad and 10 million foreign tourists a year to come to Japan by 2010. In 2008, only 15.99 million Japanese tourists went abroad and 8.35 million foreign tourists came to Japan. To increase the number of foreign visitors, the government should improve entry procedures, assist accommodation facilities in improving their services and help the tourism industry acquire the skill to better handle foreign visitors.

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