The first thing to mention when looking back on the year just gone is that, from September through to November, Japan became the first Asian nation in history to host the Rugby World Cup. During the competition, matches were held across the country bringing travelers from all over the world and in particular from Europe, the US and Australia to all parts of Japan generating a lot of interaction between them and the locals. I was very glad to see all the fans sharing their good impressions of Japan on social media and I would like to continue in this positive direction moving forward.
In October, we also hosted the first official G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting in Kutchan, Hokkaido, which had ministers and representatives from 30 countries and organizations in attendance. Based on the Ministerial Declaration that was formulated during this meeting, we will endeavor to create tourist areas that are both “good for living and good for travel” while continuing to share information with other nations.
On the other hand, however, we also experienced a number of large-scale natural disasters in quick succession last year, including the earthquake in Yamagata Prefecture in June, Typhoon Faxai in September and Typhoon Hagibis in October with a number of tourist destinations horribly affected. This year, we will continue to implement initiatives in the affected locations, including helping provide discounts on travel and accommodation expenses and other promotional activities, to help reignite tourist demand.
Turning our attention to international tourism, in 2018, we surpassed 30 million international visitors for the first time reaching 31.19 million. Last year, due to the aforementioned natural disasters and tensions between Japan and South Korea, saw months where there were less visitors than in the same month the previous year but the total number of international visitors between January and November was at 29.36 million, a 2.8% increase from 2018 indicating that numbers are still on record pace.
Looking ahead to 2020, the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are finally upon us as well as the chance to reach our 2020 annual target of 40 million overseas visitors. Drawing upon our past experience with large-scale events, we are putting in a lot of effort in all areas to have as many visitors as possible visit all areas of Japan.
More specifically, we are first of all moving forward with efforts to improve so-called “basic” tourist facilities and the environment around travelers to make trips more stress-free and pleasant for all. In response to the changing dynamic of how overseas tourists are travelling to Japan, we are of course looking to introduce multilingual support and Wi-Fi services in tourist locations and on public transport to offer exceptional multilingual assistance that is easy to understand for overseas visitors.
Also, in order to attract tourists to more regional parts of Japan and encourage more nationwide consumption, it is vital that we uncover and develop new experiences that leave tourists more satisfied than ever. Therefore, we are currently implementing an initiative in about 10 locations around the country to create highly internationally competitive ski resorts. On top of this, we are also trying to revitalize dormant tourism resources so tourists can enjoy themselves at all times of the day, including in the early in the morning and at night; create opportunities to stay in a castle or temple; and train and develop guide-interpreters to better convey the charm of different tourism experiences.
However, the development of tourism corporations to enforce these initiatives on location is a serious issue. We are looking to secure people with a high level of managerial nous and create top quality corporations that will work closely with the Japan Tourism Agency.
In order to increase inbound tourism from the likes of East Asia, Europe, the US and Australia, we are working to strengthen strategic promotion linking the Olympic and Paralympic Games to steadily increasing inbound tourism and promote new markets outside the major ones.
Also, in order to increase the number of visitors to Japan as well as their consumption while they are here, we are continuing the promotion of MICE, and in particular incentive travel, as well as of tourism by those here on business known as “bleisure”.
Outbound tourism is also extremely important from a foreign policy perspective to deepen the mutual understanding with each nation through the increase in the number of outbound and inbound tourists coming from and going to each country. Our outbound tourism is on an upward trend, with the number of Japanese tourists going overseas between January and November last year reaching 18.368 million people, an increase of 6.0% compared with the same period the previous year.
Last January, we established the ‘Youth Outbound Promotion Executive Meeting’ to further increase the number of young outbound tourists, which is currently implementing the "First Step as a Hatachi (20-year old) – First Overseas Experience Project”: an initiative offering 20-year olds who have never been overseas the chance to experience overseas travel for the first time for free.
In addition to these initiatives, we are looking to create a public-private council and introduce a range of other policies, as of around January this year, to greatly increase the number of young people travelling overseas through overseas school trips. Moving forward, we hope to continue to promote such initiatives that involve both the public and private sectors so that we can offer the youth of Japan various different opportunities to travel overseas.
In recent years, we have also been increasing the number of cities with direct flights to Japan as well as the number of international flights to further expand bilateral tourism with each nation. We at the JTA would like to continue on this path and take this opportunity to collaborate with the travel field and promote travel to new destinations.
However, there are serious problems concerning key industrialization of the tourism industry with trying to curb the worsening labor shortage. At the JTA, as well as creating an environment where women, the elderly and those from a generation of limited employment opportunity can better thrive, we are trying to help promote much more efficient and effective productivity along with programs aimed at tourism industry workers to develop core human resources. Also, in conjunction with other government offices and organizations, we are pushing for more tourism education at primary and secondary school level.
Last April, a new foreign residency status called ‘Specified Skilled Worker’ was created, that involves conducting a skills assessment both domestically and overseas, including in the accommodation industry, to employ more workers from overseas. This year, we will continue to foster conditions to allow for more overseas workers in the hotel industry, including the inclusion of added occupations to the list under Category 2 Technical Intern Training.
In preparation for such large-scale events as last year’s 2019 Rugby World Cup Japan and this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, the guidelines concerning private accommodation during such events have been revised so that they can be used as a legitimate means of accommodation more than they have been up until now.
The JTA will continue to implement the numerous important policies mentioned above together with the government as a whole and private institutions, using such funds as the international tourist tax that we have been collecting since January last year, to become an advanced tourism nation.
To conclude my New Year greeting, I would like to ask for the understanding and cooperation from everybody in a tourism-related field and the residents of Japan as we continue to implement policies for the betterment of our tourism industry. Thank you very much.
Japan Tourism Agency
January 1, 2020