Now that we have entered 2015, I would like to wish you all a happy new year.
The year before last, 2013, was a year of drastic "change" in the situation surrounding the tourismadministration, what with the achievement of reaching the goal of 10 million foreign visitors for the year, and being selected, in September of the same year, as the hosting country for the "Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games".
And last year, 2014, was a year of taking the first "step" towards realizing a Tourism-Oriented Country by exploiting the "change" into a driving force. In June, the "Ministerial Council on the Promotion of Japan as a Tourism-Oriented Country" was held, and the "2014 Action Program toward the Realization of Japan as a Tourism-Oriented Country 2014", which summarizes policies aimed at achieving the higher goal of welcoming 20 million foreign visitors to Japan by 2020, the year of the "Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games", was resolved.
The policies included in the "2014 Action Program", such as the strategical relaxation of visa requirements (including visa exemption for Indonesia) and CIQ system improvements are steadily being implemented.
From October 1st, the tax-free program was revised to exempt all relevant items from consumption tax. Shopping by foreign tourists, mainly in city center department stores, is in a prosperous condition, a situation which has come to underpin personal consumption.
As a result of strongly promoting these initiatives, along with the increase in foreign tourist numbers due to economic growth centered in Asia and the effects of continued yen depreciation, Japan received more than 13 million foreign visitors in 2014, a large increase from the 10 million visitors of the previous year. Furthermore, travel consumption by foreign tourists has largely increased.
In light of this situation, we would like to focus on the following three points so that 2015 will be a year of "advancement".
First we will discuss the "revitalization of rural areas by the promotion of tourism".
Tourism will further contribute to the revitalization of the Japanese economy. From now on, it will be increasingly significant to revitalize regional economies and communities all over the country, by drawing in more and more domestic and overseas travelers to expand the nonresident population.
Therefore, in cooperative groups of multiple prefectures, we are aiming to increase the number of foreign visitors by connecting up regional "points" so they become regional "lines" and forming a "thick line" of broad-region excursion routes, and actively communicating its existence overseas. Rural areas will also be improved as environments that are able to receive tourists by the maintenance of free public wireless LAN environments and card-transaction environments.
As for accommodation, such as hotels and ryokans which form the basis of the tourism industry in rural areas, easily comprehensible information related to accommodation will be disseminated targeting those FIT segments that are expected to grow, and human resource development for ryokan managers will be promoted to improve the "Ryokan Brand", which is one of Japan's great attractions.
Domestic travel by Japanese citizens accounts for the majority of Japan's travel consumption and plays an important role in supporting the regional tourism industries.
We will continue to steadily implement the initiatives in tourism areas in order to promote the development of tourist regions which are attractive to both domestic and overseas travelers, and we will fine-tune regional tourism resources in collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders in the regions. In addition, we would like to strongly promote acquiring vacations, in order to maintain an environment in which it is easy for Japanese citizens to travel.
Second, we will discussthe "dramatic expansion in the scale of inbound travel".
The Visit Japan Promotion will be reinforced with a "Spring Cherry Blossom Tour", an "Autumn Leaves Tour" etc., so that spring and fall will be newly established as good seasons to visit Japan. Promotions that level the travel demand will be implemented in order to get foreign tourists to visit all areas of Japan throughout the year.
Furthermore, this year will be the first year for the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) to directly run the Visit Japan Promotion, and therefore, an organizational framework of the JNTO will be built in order to achieve an efficient and effective Visit Japan Promotion in each area.
As for MICE, the results of the work of recent years have been seen in the continued success in inviting large-scale international conferences (such as the one held in Kobe, which had 6,000 participants), and the in holding of a large-scale incentive tour with 2,000 participants from foreign enterprises. Initiatives to hold MICE events will be promoted further.
Lastly, let us discuss "international mutual exchange through tourism".
The expansion of "two-way tourism", which is a form of mutual exchange, is very important both in deepening international mutual understanding with other countries and in firmly establishing Japan's position in the international community. Although the number of foreign visitors to Japan is increasing steadily, the number of outbound travelers dropped in 2013 to around 17.5 million from the record high of 18.5 million in 2012, a trend which was partially caused by the bilateral relationships between Japan and China and Japan and Korea, and by yen depreciation.
Therefore, we would like to promote mutual cooperation between countries through the dispatch of visiting groups of relevant persons from the travel industry and exchange events held overseas, in order to revitalize mutual tourism exchange with other countries, including China and South Korea.
This year, we will promote a Tourism-Oriented Country by increasing cooperation with all stakeholders and strengthening the all-Japan structure.
Thank you for your continued understanding and support.
Shigeto Kubo, Commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency