Make Japan a tourism magnet to boost economy, nat'l image
The Yomiuri Shimbun/ Asia News Network
April 25, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
Increasing the number of foreign visitors and turning this into economic growth — this goal of making Japan a tourism-oriented nation will require combined efforts by the public and private sectors.
The government is pouring considerable effort into steps to make Japan a tourism magnet. A ministerial conference chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been established for that purpose. The government plans to study comprehensive tourism policies that cross ministerial borders and formulate an action program by summer.
If more tourists and businesspeople visit Japan, it will invigorate consumption and create jobs, thereby promoting the development of regions as tourist spots. We fully support the government's initiative of realizing a tourism-oriented country.
Long Way to Go
But we must point out that the government has failed to achieve adequate results despite implementing various programs, including the "Visit Japan Campaign," since 2003.
Sustained by the overseas travel boom among middle-class people in Asian nations with spectacular economic growth, 8.37 million foreigners visited Japan in 2012. This figure has almost recovered the level recorded before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, and is 60 percent higher than the number of visitors in 2003.
Nevertheless, it is a far cry from the target of 18 million visitors the government hoped to reach by 2016.
Japan ranked 39th in the world as a destination for foreign visitors in 2011, trailing far behind China (third), Malaysia (ninth), Thailand (15th) and South Korea (25th). Although the earthquake and tsunami disaster must be factored into the equation, the figures are sobering.
Japan's main Asian rivals are pulling out all the stops to lure foreign visitors because tourism is a component of a strategy to enhance their national image.
Tourism encompasses a wide range of fields, including transportation, accommodation, food services and distribution. Government ministries and agencies need to put aside their turf battles, revamp promotion project content and step up cooperation with the private sector. The Tourism Agency must be more active in leading the formation of such a strategy.
Japan is famous for its culture of hospitality and is blessed with many regional treasures such as the natural beauty of its four seasons. However, these have yet to be reflected fully in a strategy to attract tourists.
Providing items and experiences that incorporate traditional local values and tap private-sector wisdom would be more effective than safe tourism campaigns led by administrative offices and designed to please everyone.
Make foreigners comfortable
In recent years, more foreign visitors have been travelling individually, rather than in groups. Collecting information through personal computers or mobile phones has become common practice.
The tourism industry must improve its capability to disseminate information on expenses, facilities and services, and increase the number of places where Internet service is accessible free of charge, thereby improving the environment for foreign tourists to travel easily and comfortably.
Inviting international conferences that have huge knock-on effects and promoting medical tourism for people who want to receive health checkups and treatments are also promising ways to invigorate the tourism industry.
To lift the standard of Japan's tourist trade, the nation also urgently needs to develop industries that are currently relatively unproductive, such as some hotel businesses.