In the world ranking for number of overseas visitors, France has the top spot with 83 million tourists, followed by the United States, ranked second, with 67 million, and China, ranked third, with 58 million. As these figures show, major countries support their economy with tourism. Japan, however, is ranked 30th in the world. Japan has world-class latent tourism resources, including abundant nature, unique culture, sophisticated cities, and its highly appreciated national cuisine. We should pull out all the stops to achieve the target of 30 million overseas tourists.
1. Let Visitors from Overseas Discover Japanese Tourism Resources and Encourage them to Share Information!
The most popular sightseeing spot among foreign tourists in Tokyo is Tsukiji. Japanese people cannot understand this. Australian tourists, meanwhile, discovered for themselves the beauty of Niseko in Hokkaido, which had gone unnoticed by Japanese people, and started to invest in the area. Niseko is attractive to Australians because there is only a small time difference between Japan and Australia and they can go there to enjoy hot springs and Japanese food. These factors have increased the popularity of Niseko. It is important to let foreigners discover, from their own perspective, new attractive features of Japan that we Japanese have overlooked. It may be effective to invite “sightseeing ambassadors” and influential bloggers, and to offer incentives to international students in Japan to encourage them to share information on the country.
2. Make Every Effort to Relax Visa Requirements!
The recent relaxation of visa requirements has significantly affected the increase in the number of tourists to Japan. Thanks to the visa waiver for visitors from Thailand, Malaysia, and other Asian countries, and the issuance of a multiple entry visa to visitors from some other countries, the number of visitors to Japan from these countries has surged. In 2013, the total number of visitors to Japan exceeded 10 million for the first time. Then, in 2014, it exceeded 13 million. The number of jurisdictions for which Japan waives visa requirements is 67, of which only nine are in Asia. To increase the number of tourists to Japan, visa requirements should be minimized, particularly for Chinese tourists. A total of more than 100 million Chinese tourists traveled overseas in 2013. The Japanese government relaxed the visa requirement for Chinese tourists to Japan in 2015 but further relaxation of the requirements should be made.
3. Enhance Global Competitiveness in International Conferences and Other MICE Industry Events!
France, which is ranked first in the world in number of foreign tourists, through policy measures emphasizes in-bound travel related to the MICE industry (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions). MICE industry events can attract prominent global figures who are influential in terms of thought and economic leadership and therefore are highly effective in generating economic ripple effects, creating business opportunities, and improving the brand reputation of cities.
China, Korea, Singapore, and other Asian nations are active in attracting MICE travelers. Japan should also make serious efforts with emphasis on the following three points: 1) flexible and bold subsidies by the national and municipal governments; 2) active stance by top leaders to offer hospitality to foreigners; and 3) improvement of the environment to attract foreigners to urban areas, such as the use of English and various other languages, and Internet access.
4. Remove the Ban on Integrated Resorts (IRs) Centered on Casinos!
The Singaporean government started considering the construction of integrated resorts (IRs) in 2004 by legalizing casinos, which had previously been banned. In 2005, through public discussion, the government decided to start developing a plan for an IR development with a casino. As a result, integrated resorts were opened in 2010 and have been thriving. One of them is Marina Bay Sands, an integrated resort combining a casino, luxury hotel, conference facilities, and commercial facilities.
Casinos are only a part of IRs and it is common knowledge worldwide that MICE, shopping malls, and live entertainment generate larger economic effects than casinos. While avoiding emphasizing only the negative aspects of casinos, the government should legalize casinos and adopt the IR model to make Japan more tourism-oriented.