Date
24 May 2017
Tourists surround Japanese wild monkeys in a hot spring in Yamanouchi town in Nagano prefecture. More than 19.7 million foreigners visited Japan in 2015. Photo:  AFP
Tourists surround Japanese wild monkeys in a hot spring in Yamanouchi town in Nagano prefecture. More than 19.7 million foreigners visited Japan in 2015. Photo: AFP

Japan struggling to cope with flood of tourists

A tourism boom is beginning to strain Japan as it grapples with record-breaking arrivals with no sign of letting up.

More than 19.7 million foreigners visited Japan in 2015, nearly 50 percent more than a year earlier and more than double that of 2012, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing the Japan National Tourism Organization.

About one-quarter of the arrivals were Chinese, more than double from a year earlier.

The numbers are a rare economic bright spot for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose government worked to lure more tourists, in part by easing visa rules and expanding the range of duty-free items.

A weaker local currency was the biggest draw, experts say, as foreign visitors took advantage of the charms of a country long reputed to be prohibitively expensive.

The foreign visitors last year spent a record of nearly US$30 billion in the country, representing about 0.5 percent of the economy.

Two years ago, Abe set a goal of attracting 20 million visitors by 2020, the year Tokyo holds the Olympic Games, another sure bet to attract more visitors.

With that number in sight late last year, he raised the target to 30 million, without specifying a date.

But Japan is hobbled by a shortage of hotel rooms and insufficient immigration agents that cause long airport lines.

“The lack of places to stay could be a bottleneck if Japan is going to aim for the 30 million target,” said Shunpei Fujita, an economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting.

The country will face a shortage of 41,000 hotel rooms by 2020 requiring about US$4.9 billion in investment, assuming the number of arrivals reaches 25 million by then, according to Mizuho Research Institute, a unit of Mizuho Financial Group, one of Japan’s big three banks.

US-based Airbnb, an online home-rental service, has recorded explosive growth in its Japan listings.

Airbnb says on its website that its listings in Japan have doubled every year since 2010, and its Japanese hosts have welcomed 500,000 guests into their homes.

– Contact us at [email protected]

RA

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe