Waves of visitors from foreign countries are flocking to Japan, with their number approaching the 2 million mark on a monthly basis. Tourists, especially from Asian countries, are on the rise fueled by the weaker yen, relaxation in visa requirements and an increase in air routes and flights. In order to make this tourism boom a driving force to expand farmers’ income and revitalize rural villages, it is necessary to direct big-spending tourists to regional areas as repeaters. The government and the private sector should work together to take timely and sustainable measures to let it happen.
According to the Japan Tourism Agency, the number of overseas tourists totaled 1.9184 million in July on a provisional basis, up 51 percent from a year before to mark a new monthly record. The figure for the period between January and July totaled 11.0583 million, up 47 percent from the same period last year, topping 10 million in seven months, three months earlier than last year which marked the earliest record.
In terms of regions, the largest number of tourists came from China in July, exceeding 500,000, doubling from a year before. The figure was followed by 360,000 from Taiwan and 340,000 from South Korea, both marking a year-on-year increase of 20 to 30 percent. Tourists from other regions, such as Hong Kong, the United States and Thailand, are also rising steadily.
The number of people who used Narita International Airport between Aug. 7 and 16 was around 840,000 on a provisional basis. The number of Japanese dropped 10 percent to 480,000, while that of foreign people rose more than 30 percent to 350,000, showing an opposite trend amid the weakening yen. The Tourism Agency predicts the number of foreign tourists will reach a record of 18 million this year, calling for the urgent need to improve facilities and services nationwide to receive foreign tourists.
Recently, the number of duty free shops in Japan is increasing sharply to serve shoppers from abroad. In October, the government expanded the consumption tax exemption benefits for foreign tourists from electric appliances and bags to all items including food and beverages. The number of duty free shops nationwide stood at 19,000 as of April, doubling within six months.
However, many of the shops are located in metropolitan areas, and the number of such shops in rural areas is still small. Many calls for strengthened support to establish more duty free shops, as well as simplifying and summing up tax-free shopping procedures. The government plans to increase the number of duty free shops nationwide to 20,000 by 2020, three times as much as the current status quo. Such measures would help bring foreign tourists to regional areas and boost local economies.
Many are also paying attention to ports which can serve as cruise ship terminals. A group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers proposed to the government to increase the number of ports which can receive large cruise ships and simplify quarantine procedures to encourage shopping by foreign passengers. The government allocated funds in the fiscal 2016 budget requests to cope with the issue. Since cruise ships can bring a large number of foreign visitors to regional areas along with duty free shops, a government-funded business model for tourists arriving by cruise ships should be swiftly established and spread nationwide.
It is true that consumption by foreign visitors can contribute to reviving the Japanese economy, but it is a trend which is influenced by unstable factors such as foreign exchange rates and the global situation. We should not make this a temporary trend. A comprehensive set of measures is needed to make this a sustainable trend. The government must build a system to connect foreign tourists and rural villages ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
(Sept. 4, 2015)