Put Efforts into Enriching Regional Areas through Spending by Foreign Visitors

The number of foreign visitors to Japan, which plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, has now begun to recover. Increasing spending by visiting tourists must be promoted and used as a stepping stone for economic revival.

The Japan Tourism Agency has presented a draft of a new Tourism Nation Promotion Basic Plan to a panel of experts.

The draft sets the goal of raising the number of visitors to Japan in 2025 to above the 2019 record-high level of 31.88 million and increasing the spending per visitor to ¥200,000 in 2025, ¥40,000 more than in 2019.

The government target of increasing the number of visitors to Japan to 60 million in 2030 will be maintained. However, as future prospects are uncertain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the draft says quality in terms of spending will be emphasized more than the quantity of visitors to Japan.

Even before the pandemic, the amount of consumption per visiting tourist had been sluggish. “Overtourism” had become an issue in cities like Kyoto and Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. It is understandable that the emphasis should be placed on the amount of consumption, which is directly linked to economic growth.

With the easing of border control measures against COVID-19, the number of visitors to Japan in January reached about 1.5 million, recovering to 56% of the level in January 2019. The weak yen also served as a tailwind.

Attracting visitors to Japan had been one of the pillars of the growth strategy even before the pandemic. Now that it seems the pandemic is being mitigated and the number of visitors to Japan has begun to recover, it is important to take advantage of this opportunity to increase consumption.

To do so, it will be necessary to extend a visitor’s stay in Japan, and efforts to widen their destinations to regional areas will be indispensable.

Morioka was the second place listed in The New York Times’ list of “52 Places to Go in 2023,” and the number of visitors from Western nations to the capital of Iwate Prefecture is reportedly increasing. The city is highly praised for its architecture dating to the Meiji era incorporating a mix of Japanese and Western styles, its natural environment and its food culture, including wanko soba in which customers eat as many small bowls of noodles as they like.

Ski resorts in Hokkaido and Nagano Prefecture have increased the number of visitors to Japan by promoting their powder snow, which offers comfortable skiing.

The central and local governments must deepen cooperation and widely promote abroad the attractiveness of local tourism resources that up to now had not received much attention.

Attracting wealthy tourists is also important. According to the JTA, the number of visitors to Japan from Western nations and China among other major countries who spent more than ¥1 million per stay in Japan was less than 1% of the number of overall visitors in 2019, but the amount they spent accounted for about 12% of the overall spending.

The spread of luxury hotels and the development of tour plans are desired.

The tourism and lodging industry, hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, is in the meantime facing a serious labor shortage, as not enough people in the industry who became unemployed during the pandemic have returned. To take advantage of the opportunity arising from a recovery in visitor numbers to Japan, it will be necessary to improve productivity through digitization and labor-saving measures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2023)