• SHARE

Last year, the number of tourists worldwide reached an astonishing 1.035 billion arrivals, according to an annual survey by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Despite worldwide economic uncertainty, more people than ever before traveled to other countries. Tourism is clearly an economic and cultural force that will continue increasing every year.

The survey found that tourism around the world increased by 4 percent overall from 2011 to 2012. Europe is still the most visited area, with 535 million visitors, but visitor arrivals continued to increase in every region of the world except the Middle East.

Tourism in the Asia-Pacific region was up 7 percent. The region’s best performer was Southeast Asia with arrivals up 8.7 percent from 2011. Japan saw revenue from international tourism increase by 37 percent in 2012, a higher number than the vast majority of countries.

Part of that upsurge reflects a recovery from the rapid and massive drop in tourism following the earthquake, tsunami and radiation fears in 2011, but it also supports the understanding that Japan is still an untapped tourist destination. Developing a larger tourist market can contribute to a healthy, diversified economy and serve as one source of economic vitality.

Japan has not yet developed its tourist market fully, but given the ongoing economic depression, it should be considered more seriously as an important industry. Perhaps because the rest of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, leaped ahead too quickly into tourism without sufficient controls and infrastructure, some Japanese may fear the result of a huge influx of tourists here.

However, a more developed tourist industry would leave Japanese culture intact and unharmed since the Japanese economy is not as vulnerable to fluctuations as developing economies might be. It is unlikely that huge numbers of tourists will have negative effects on the already mature and established culture, or produce a tourism-addicted economy, in the way it might have once done in more fragile cultures and developing economies.

Japanese outbound tourism also improved in 2012. The slight improvement in the Japanese economy contributed significantly to the rise in Japanese visitors throughout Asia. Tourism is never a one-way industry, but benefits many countries at the same time.

Tourism can do harm, but it can also help foster understanding. Asian cooperation and coordination in tourism can help improve political and economic relations. Japan would do well to support its tourist industry. Nurturing it is one positive way of interacting with its Asian neighbors and fostering cross-cultural awareness.