Japan pushes “hands-free travel” services to boost inbound tourism

TOKYO, April 15 – The transport ministry has been working on spreading services to allow foreign tourists travel without having to carry their luggage. By setting up counters at roadside rest areas and farmers’ markets to offer temporary storage and delivery services for luggage, the government hopes tourists will be encouraged to purchase more farm produce and local specialties, thus expanding business opportunities for farm coops and agricultural corporations which operate markets and tourism farms.

The ministry began designating operators of “hands-free travel” services in 2015 and the number of such operators reached 222 as of the end of March. Counters are being set up not only in major airports but also in roadside rest areas in rural regions, a ministry official said.

In order to be designated by the ministry, an operator needs to offer either the temporary luggage storage service or the delivery service to send luggage to the next destination on the day or by the following day in coordination with shipping carriers. Operators are also required to provide information on the service, including charges and compensation provisions, in foreign languages. Stores run by farm coops and agricultural organizations as well as tourism farms are subject to designation.

Designated hands-free travel operators can put up a “hands-free travel” logo sign and receive subsidies to cover one third of the expenses for setting up counters and foreign language signs. Operators wishing to be designated should submit application documents to a nearby district transport bureau.

Hakodate Morning Market, a popular food market in Hakodate, Hokkaido, which attracts nearly 2 million tourists a year, set up a counter for foreign tourists in 2016. Visitors can obtain tourist information in English and send farm produce abroad at the counter. Applications for tax exemption can also be made at the counter, and there are roughly 80 requests for overseas delivery made in a year, mainly by tourists from Asian countries sending farm produce such as melon.

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