Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Thu July 16 2015

Japanese Tourism Continues to Soar

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | July 16, 2015

Japanese Tourism Continues to Soar

PHOTO: While Kyoto remains Japan’s top destination with Americans, other off-path regions are becoming more popular. (Courtesy of Kyoto Tourism)

A little perspective helps to comprehend the growth of Japanese tourism over the last three years. In 2012, Japan attracted 8.5 million international visitors. In 2014, Japan attracted a record 13 million overall foreign visitors including 891,668 Americans (+11.6 percent). Tourism to Japan from the U.S. is making incredible strides as the Japan National Tourism Organization just marked May, 2015 as the 14th consecutive month of record U.S. visitor arrivals when 92,200 Americans traveled to Japan. Last year, international travelers in Japan spent $16.8 billion, a growth of 43 percent more than 2013. The revenues have grown so robust that in June, Japan’s tourism industry turned in a surplus for the first time in more than 50 years. When you consider the amount that the Japanese travel outbound, that surplus is clearly an amazing statistic.

In the first quarter this year some 4,131,400 internationals arrived including 216,900 Americans for a growth of 43.7 percent and 12.6 percent respectively. The JNTO began the year targeting 15 million arrivals for 2015, but over the first five months the country’s on track for 18 million overseas visitors.

The JNTO attributes the country’s success to continuous tourism promotion by both the JNTO and Japanese local governments, as well as the weaker Japanese yen. The dollar has gone from ¥77 in the autumn of 2012 to ¥123 today. The JNTO has also been expanding the realm of Japanese tourism by promoting destinations beyond the classic Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara triangle. The JNTO’s renewed commitment to off-the-beaten-path destinations such as Hokkaido is designed to showcase more of Japan’s dimensions to travelers.

Hokkaido, for example, has four distinct seasons that produce cherry blossoms in spring, lavender in summer, maple leaves in fall and snow in winter. The history of the island is reflected in a town such as Hakodate. Hakodate began in 1454 as a trading outpost and is now the third largest city in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is connected to Honshu, Japan’s largest and best-known island, Honshu, by the 34 mile-long Seikan Tunnel. Hokkaido is also known for the fine powdered snow that makes its mountains a favorite with skiers.

Japan has also benefited from more media attention. Travel + Leisure just named Kyoto its top city, but the country has also gotten positive articles from National Geographic and the New York Times put Shikoku at No. 35 on its 52 Places to go in 2015 list. The readers of Condé Nast Traveler put Kyoto in their Top 25 destinations.

Tokyo was named the most livable city in Monocle’s annual Quality of Life Survey, up from No. 2 last year. Monocle’s metrics included such criteria as housing, cost of living, access to the outdoors, crime, healthcare, state-funded education and business climate among many others.

Vienna, Berlin, Melbourne, Sydney, Stockholm, Vancouver, Helsinki, Munich and Zürich rounded out the Top 10.

The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will likely accelerate all of these superlatives going forward. The Japanese government estimates that the games could boost Japanese GDP by an additional 0.5 percent, creating a positive impact estimated at ¥4.2 trillion. As always, the Olympics will inspire a chorus of economic critics who will cite failed Olympics in the past to quash any hopes of a successful hosting in Tokyo, but remember that Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics and much of the Olympic infrastructure is already in place from those games.

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