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Editorial: Use 2020 Tokyo Games to boost number of foreign visitors to Japan

  • January 17, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 7:37 p.m.
  • English Press
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It is hoped that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will reaccelerate growth in the number of foreign visitors to Japan.


In 2019, the number of visitors to Japan was 31.88 million, up 2.2% from the previous year. The figure marked a record high for the seventh consecutive year, but the growth rate drastically slowed from the 8.7% seen in 2018. The figure reflected a decline in South Korean travelers due to the deteriorated relationship between Tokyo and Seoul.


The government has set a goal of 40 million visitors to Japan in 2020. Over 25% growth is needed to achieve that. The public and private sectors should work together to take “one more measure.”


By country and region, about 80% of visitors are from Asia, mainly China, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. It is desirable to keep a regional balance by increasing visitors from the United States, Europe and other countries.


During the period of the Rugby World Cup (RWC), a large number of spectators from participating countries, including Britain and New Zealand, visited Japan. The Tokyo Games has far more participating countries than the RWC. There is no reason not to take advantage of such an opportunity.


One challenge is how to enhance the nighttime economy, in which visitors can enjoy sightseeing even at night. The closing times of museums, art galleries and tourist facilities tend to be early. Evening events in Japan cannot compare with ones abroad. Reportedly, there is strong dissatisfaction among foreign visitors on this point.


Regarding the annual scale of the nighttime economies of major world cities, London’s reached about ¥3.7 trillion, while New York’s stood at around ¥2.1 trillion. Those cities have no shortage of entertainment at night, including opera or musicals.


Although the government has a target of increasing the consumption by visitors to Japan to ¥8 trillion in 2020, the figure in 2018 was just ¥4.5 trillion. Expanded nighttime sightseeing is expected to boost consumption.


In addition to urging museums and other facilities to extend their opening hours, the government will subsidize activities such as illuminations or other night events. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and Osaka Metro Co. will experimentally push the time of the last train back to between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. to gauge the actual level of demand among foreign visitors.


In rural areas, it would be effective to conduct community-wide activities such as organizing a tour of restaurants featuring local products.


There is room for improvement in immigration procedures, which have a negative image because they take a long time. About passport control at airports, the government aims to reduce the waiting time to less than 20 minutes by installing facial recognition gates and other measures. While taking all possible measures against terrorism, the government should improve convenience with leading-edge technologies.


Amid concern about a lack of accommodations for the Tokyo Games, there is interest in the concept of “event minpaku,” a type of minpaku private lodging service that allows tourists to pay to stay in private homes only during an event. During the RWC period, such a system was implemented around four venues and was used by foreigners.


The government intends to relax the requirements and expand the use of short-term homestay-style minpaku in which residents and foreigners can interact. It should make efforts to publicize and facilitate this.


— This article appeared in the print version of The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 17, 2020.

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