Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) will continue to promote new attractions and charms of Japan as a tourism destination in line with the government policy to increase number of tourists to the 2019 level by 2025, says its senior official.
Daisuke Kobayashi, Head of the Middle East Region at JNTO, said Japan is a safe, clean and enjoyable destination for both families and friends. He said JNTO Dubai Office, which has jurisdiction over the Middle East, is keen to attract more visitors from the region and it focuses on contributing to both total expenditure and expenditure per tourist.
“Most tourists from the Middle East visiting Japan are first-time travelers and they prefer the 'Golden Route', which includes sightseeing in Tokyo, enjoying Mt. Fuji and hot springs in Hakone, and then exploring cities in the west such as Kyoto and Osaka. This route allows visitors to experience both the modernity of cities such as Tokyo and Osaka and the traditional charm of Kyoto,” Kobayashi said during an interview with Khaleej Times.
Excerpts from the interview:
Japan aims to increase number of tourists to the 2019 level by 2025. How do you see JNTO role to achieve this target?
As of March 2023, new government targets were announced for inbound tourism to Japan from Japanese government:
Expenditure by foreign tourists in Japan: Achieve 5 trillion yen at an earlier date (2019 actual result: 4.8 trillion yen)
Expenditure per foreign tourist: Reach 200,000 yen by 2025 (2019 actual result: 159,000 yen)
Number of overnight stays per foreign tourist in rural areas: Reach two nights by 2025 (2019 actual result: 1.4 nights)
Number of foreign tourists visiting Japan: Surpass the level of 2019 by 2025 (2019 actual result: 31.88 million)
To accomplish these targets, JNTO will continue to promote new attractions and charms of Japan as a tourism destination. In particular, we will prioritize not only the number of tourists but also the total trip expenditure spent by tourists during their visits. From this perspective, it is necessary to introduce unique and high-value-added tourism contents, accommodations, and exclusive Japanese experiences that differentiate Japan from other countries, in order to showcase Japan as a destination for special travel experiences.
What is the target of visitors from the Middle East and GCC to Japan by 2030? What initiatives have been taken to achieve this target?
To achieve the new government target, JNTO Dubai Office, which has jurisdiction over the Middle East, focuses on contributing to both total expenditure and expenditure per tourist. In the Middle East, a significant number of people travel abroad multiple times a year, and international travel spending per capita ranks among the top in the world. JNTO Dubai Office sees it as our mission to attract tourists from the Middle East with these characteristics. Through our activities such as facilitating networking and business discussions to connect Japanese travel agencies capable of accommodating the needs of the affluent with travel agencies in the Middle East, conducting co-promotions with airlines and travel agencies and consistently disseminating information through social medias, we are working on enhancing awareness of Japan as a travel destination in the Middle East.
JNTO Dubai plans to target other countries in the Gulf region but has no plan to expand into other parts of the Middle East. Please explain.
We, JNTO Dubai Office, have a wide jurisdiction from the Middle East to North Africa. Since these regions were previously untapped markets for Japan, we began by focusing on the UAE, where our office is located, and the six GCC countries that has direct flights to Japan. We are currently in the process of conducting promotional activities, establishing a solid foundation, and strengthening our network.
JNTO Dubai is about to complete two years. How do you rate its performance?
We opened our office in November 2022 under some limitations for activities for the first year due to the pandemic. However, since Japan’s boarder restriction has lifted in the end of 2022, we conducted timely promotional activities such as big scale co-promotional activity with each airline and travel agency in the Middles East. Since then, we are actively engaged in promotional activities such as disseminating information through social medias, conducting influencer marketing and attending travel fair such as Arabian Travel Market. As a result, the number of tourists from the Middle East from January to September in 2023 has remarkable recovery with a rate of 124 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, which was pre-pandemic. Among all 22 countries that JNTO has positioned as priority markets, the Middle East market has the highest recovery rate. We consider this a significant achievement.
Do you plan any special package or incentives for Gulf visitors who are serious to attend Expo 2025 in Osaka?
According to a survey conducted by JNTO, hosting mega events like the Expo 2025 Osaka helps foreign people recognize Japan as a travel destination and increases their interest, serving as a strong trigger for visiting Japan. In light of the hosting of the Expo 2025 Osaka, we are continuously disseminating information related to tourism in Japan and its charms, with a focus on Osaka and the Kansai region, the hosting location. Furthermore, as the previous Expo was held here in Dubai, UAE, and achieved remarkable success, we intend to carry on the legacy of the Dubai Expo and expect the Osaka Expo to be a successful event.
How far has JNTO been successful in spreading awareness about the culture and lifestyle of Japan?
We consider it is important to generate interest in Japanese culture and lifestyle as a means to inspire people to travel to Japan. For example, in seminars conducted this year for travel agencies, we provided participants with opportunities to experience the unique Japanese perspective and traditions found in Japanese cuisine by demonstrating the preparation of "dashi," a crucial element in Japanese cuisine.
On social medias, we also share information about the Japanese mentality of coexisting with nature rather than controlling it, as well as the seasonal pleasures that are unique to Japan. At the Arabian Travel Market held in May this year, we continued to hear the familiar expression, "Japan is about cherry blossoms." However, we also received many expressions of interest in Japanese culture and lifestyle, including traditional arts such as Ikebana (flower arrangement) and tea ceremonies, as well as the appreciation of nature through customs such as Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and Momijigari (autumn foliage viewing). As part of our efforts to attract tourists to Japan, we will continue to disseminate information from these perspectives.
With the rising popularity of Japanese cuisine amongst the locals, has this translated into an increase in tourism from the region?
Cuisine is one of the most important factors to consider during a trip, and we find it to be one of the most appealing aspects of a trip to Japan. The increasing popularity of Japanese cuisine in the Middle East has contributed to a growing demand for visiting Japan. Apart from the popular sushi and sashimi, Japan offers a treasure trove of culinary delights, including seasonal vegetables and fruits for each of the four seasons and local specialties unique to different regions.
Furthermore, in Japan, you can not only savor traditional Japanese cuisine but also explore dishes that fuse French and Italian cooking with traditional Japanese ingredients, as well as local delicacies. We hope to convey that Japan boasts a wide variety of culinary experiences.
What are some important pieces of information that first-time visitors to Japan need to be aware of?
Japan is a safe, clean and enjoyable destination for both families and friends. Furthermore, to enhance your experience, it's important to consider in advance what interests you in Japan. Japan is an island nation where the land stretches long from north to south with diverse regions. Each region offers unique charms and specialties. Your tourism experience will vary depending on the time and season of your visit.
Moreover, you can choose from a wide variety of tourism options, including traditional culture, history, cuisine, urban experiences, relaxation, and more. To enhance your experience and tailor it to your preferences, it is recommendable to gather information about your interests and choose the region and season based on the purpose of your visit.
What are some of the most popular tourist destinations and how does this list change with regard to the seasons?
Currently, most tourists from the Middle East visiting Japan are first-time travellers.
For them, the 'Golden Route' is particularly popular, which includes sightseeing in Tokyo, enjoying Mt. Fuji and hot springs in Hakone, and then exploring cities in the west such as Kyoto and Osaka. This route allows visitors to experience both the modernity of cities such as Tokyo and Osaka and the traditional charm of Kyoto. It's a popular choice for first-time visitors as it showcases Japan's iconic tourist attractions all in one trip. The 'Golden Route' is popular throughout the year. However, repeat visitors to Japan often enjoy high-quality winter sports with powder snow in Hokkaido and Tohoku in the northern part of Japan. During the summer, some people opt for beach resort stays in Kyushu and Okinawa in the southern part of Japan. Japan's biggest feature is that it offers new charms in every season and region. Japan is a travel destination of endless discovery.
What are the future plans with regards to expanding tourism to Japan?
In the Middle East, there are many people who have never been to Japan. It is important to encourage people to shift their mindset about Japan from 'The country I want to visit sometime in the future' to "Let's actually go to Japan and experience it!" by raising awareness of it as a travel destination. From this perspective, in addition to information dissemination on social medias since winter 2021, we plan to collaborate with influencers for information sharing this year.
Our goal is to have the general consumers observe how influencers enjoy and experience Japan, inspiring them to envision detailed visits and feel a closer connection to Japan. In this way, we will continue to implement initiatives to encourage people to consider Japan as a specific travel destination for B2C purposes.
For B2B purposes, it is essential to create opportunities for travel agencies in the Middle East and Japan to establish connections, enabling Middle East travel agencies to organize Japan trips in response to consumer requests. By strengthening both B2B and B2C efforts, we will promote trips to Japan from the Middle East.
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