The outlook for post-pandemic tourism in Japan

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Author: Yusaku Yoshikawa, JIN Corporation

On June 10, 2022, Japan finally started allowing international tourists in the country for the first time in two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Seek to balance its reopening and preventing the spread of infection, the Japanese government requires all tourists must wear face masks and be privately insured and chaperoned.

This reopening is a first step for end Japan’s strict entry restrictions for tourists. Post-pandemic tourism will force the country to juggle economic benefits with sustainability. A major challenge will be to make the country more responsible and more open to foreigners.

Before the pandemic, Japan’s tourism industry was booming. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, Japan welcomed 31.9 million international visitors in 2019, making Japan the 11th most visited country in the world and the 3rd most visited in Asia. Along with an overall increase in tourist numbers, the number of international visitors increase nearly five times in a decade.

Visitors came mainly from neighboring countries in East Asia, including China (30.1%), South Korea (17.5%), Taiwan (15.3%) and Hong Kong (7.2%). %), followed by the United States (5.4%). ) in 2019. Spending by tourists was valued at 4.8 trillion yen ($36 billion) in the same year.

But the number of international visitors dropped to 4.1 million in 2020 due to the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with tourist spending down nearly 85%.

Although it was supported by government grants and the “Go-To Japan” domestic travel program countrytourism has undoubtedly been one of the hardest hit country’s industries. The pandemic has burst the bubble of tourist demand expected at the Tokyo Olympics. Hotel businesses in Japan are mostly small and medium enterprises and were particularly vulnerable to economic loss. Bringing back international tourists is a strong imperative for industry.

The industry’s slump stems in part from Japan’s tight border controls during the pandemic. Entrance has been strictly controlled and many foreigners are locked out from Japan. Some have even compared the measurements to ‘sakoku‘, the country’s isolationist national foreign policy under the Tokugawa shogunate from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Still, the Japanese government has high expectations for the country’s post-COVID-19 tourism. Despite the complications of the epidemic, the country maintains its objective of welcome 60 million international visitors per year by 2030 – aiming to increase visitor numbers by a further 20 million in eight years. But is the country, which is just beginning to reopen to international tourists, ready for this surge?

Attracting international tourists is a double-edged sword. Before the pandemic, Japan was facing a rapid increase in tourist numbers and had already started Suffering over-tourism – the state in which the number of tourists exceeds the tourism carrying capacity of the community.

Popular destinations like Kyoto were packed with tourists before the pandemic. This “tourist pollution” has sometimes caused tension between tourists and locals. Some residents said they appreciated the “silence” – tourist areas without too many tourists – during the pandemic.

The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism reported that welcoming too many international tourists leads to problems such as noise and heavy traffic, irresponsible tourist behavior, labor shortages and increased waste, among other issues.

To meet these challenges, many Argue that Japan’s international tourism should start making efforts to ensure its sustainability. They point out that the pandemic has been a good opportunity for industry self-reflection – that the continued increase in tourist numbers can’t last forever. Indeed, the industry needs to diversify tourist destinations and their peak periods. International tourists to Japan are still concentrated in metropolitan areas like Tokyo and Osaka – leading to regional disparities in the economic benefits of tourism – despite signs that the trend is changing.

On June 6, Okinawa Prefecture approved its tourism promotion basic plan for the fiscal years 2022-2031, emphasizing the concepts of quality over quantity and sustainable tourism. This embodies the idea that the industry’s numbers game is reaching its limit.

At the same time, Japan should not forget that it has been criticized for its cold treatment of foreigners. Over the past 40 years, Japan has accepted only 915 refugees. The country has traditionally inconvenienced foreign workers with income cuts, layoffs and even repatriations during the pandemic. Some might wonder about the choice of the country to welcome international tourists while these questions remain unresolved.

Japan should tackle these issues more seriously to be more responsible to international visitors. Addressing its own challenges will help the country appear more hospitable and open-minded. This will help build strong connections with potential international visitors, eventually contributing to the sustainability of tourism.

Japan’s reopening to international visitors will herald the start of its post-pandemic tourism. To reap the benefits while facing the various challenges of tourism, the government must not only pursue its economic benefits, but also ensure its sustainability.

Yusaku Yoshikawa is a support consultant at JIN Corporation.

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