The perfect address

The perfect address
Officials are forming private sector partnerships to help boost hotel capacity, particularly in underserved destinations.

'The Land of the Rising Sun' retained its position as the third-largest travel and tourism economy in the world in 2018, according to the recent World Travel & Tourism Council's annual economic impact and social importance review



Published: Mon 21 Oct 2019, 2:52 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Oct 2019, 5:05 PM

From bustling Tokyo to quiet Kyoto, there are few destinations in the world that bring a stark contrast in tourism options as Japan, a country of just 126 million that has set an official goal to attract 40 million inbound visitors by 2020 and 60 million by 2030. 
Last year, travel and tourism contributed a total of JPY40,604.2 billion to the country's economy. This is the equivalent of $367.7 billion, more than Germany. 
"The plan to double international visitors to 40 million by 2020 and to 60 million visitors by 2030 shows a great understanding of the role of travel and tourism as a driver of economic growth and job creation," said Gloria Guevara, President and CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council.
Since 2016, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced bold plans to make inbound tourism a keystone of Japan's future growth and regional revitalisation, public and private organisations throughout the country have been working to make this vision a reality.
According to statistics from the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO), the country received a record 31.2 million inbound tourism arrivals in 2018, an increase of 8.7 per cent from 2017. Now, thanks to Rugby World Cup 2019 and the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan seems to be on its way to achieving this goal.
But even as Japan's ambitions for tourism continue to grow, there's an increasing recognition of the challenges that must be addressed to make this vision a reality. Some solutions are more obvious, including increased investment in digital marketing and more focus on tourist-friendly amenities.
Among the projects already in the works are a rollout of free Wi-Fi service in many of the country's rail stations and bullet trains, more accessible taxi apps, and the countrywide deployment of new multi foreign-language signage, smartphone guide apps, and maps in key tourist hotspots.
Today, Japan is working to address a growing imbalance of visitors between its most-popular sights and its lesser-known destinations. Many foreign visitors still spend the majority of their time and money in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, with a minimal tourist traffic reaching lesser-known regions that sorely need these visitors.
This imbalance can also contribute to quality of life issues for citizens in popular locations. In fact, the fastest-growing tourism issue is Japan's tourism imbalance between popular destinations and lesser-known cities and regions.
The 2017 JNTO statistics on country-wide visitation habits to understand the disparity. Of the more than 28 million visitors who came to Japan in 2017, the Kanto region (home of Tokyo) saw more than 27 million visitors, while the Kinki region (home of Kyoto and Osaka) welcomed 17 million.
Meanwhile, the country's lesser-known Shikoku and Tohoku regions received just 690,000 and 966,000 visits, respectively, during the same period.
The challenge of this imbalance is twofold. For more popular destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, it can create quality of life headaches for local officials and residents, who increasingly contend with problems like overcrowded public transportation services, wall-to-wall crowds at tourist sites, and excessive demand for a limited supply of accommodations. But the imbalance is also an opportunity.
Both JNTO and JTA are now developing new strategies to encourage "visitor dispersal". This emerging tourism discipline focuses on developing new tourism regulations, infrastructure, and promotional activities, which will entice inbound visitors to include lesser-known destinations and regions in their trip itineraries.
To help further alleviate the growing visitor crunch, Japanese officials are also forming private sector partnerships to help boost hotel capacity, particularly in underserved destinations. A new Ritz Carlton development in Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and new Hilton properties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the cities' convention facilities, are just a few examples. In addition, a variety of independent and luxury chains have announced openings in the country. 
Yet another change involves encouraging collaboration and providing support for local and regional tourism boards. Until a few years ago, marketing and tourism activity was handled individually by each region or city.
But that's now changing as Japan's regional destinations band together to cooperate more closely on promotion and share tourism strategies, helped in part by the formation of a world-level destination marketing organisation (DMO) by JTA in 2015. As of July 2018, there were 86 DMOs and 122 candidate DMOs in Japan that were officially registered by JTA.


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