While Japan has long been among the world’s most popular destinations, it is quite surprising to find out that the government still considers tourism to be a budding sector. It was only in 2003 that the government made it a priority to raise foreign tourist arrivals.
In March 2011, the sector was dealt a huge blow with the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region in eastern Japan.
According to official figures, foreign tourist arrivals fell to 6.3 million that year. Just two years after, that figure has risen beyond pre-disaster levels to 8.6 million.
The remarkable recovery of Japanese tourism speaks to the country’s enduring worldwide appeal; and given Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics, it is hard not to be optimistic for the future.
“Inbound tourists to Japan come mainly from Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and the U.S. A significant number of tourists come from the U.S., with over 710,000 of them in 2012, the largest among non-Asian markets.
This makes the U.S. one of the most important markets for our Visit Japan programs,” said Ryoichi Matsuyama, president of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
“This year, we are aiming for ten million tourists, targeting 800,000 visitors from the U.S.,” Matsuyama added.
The country’s main international gateway — Narita Airport — is expecting a huge growth in flights and passenger traffic.
“With the implementation of the ‘open skies’ policy, we hope to see an increase in the number of flight operations. And with the economic outlook in seemingly good shape, thanks to the administration of Prime Minister Abe, and his government’s policy to promote inbound tourism, we can expect a steady increase in flights to Japan,” said Narita International Airport Corporation (NAA) President and CEO Makoto Natsume.
“Throughout the years, we have increased Narita International Airport’s capacity, and I am pleased to say that our capacity expansion and facility upgrading is on target to accommodate 300,000 annual aircraft movements by fiscal year 2014. One key feature is a dedicated low-cost terminal,” Natsume added.
Sharing more than half of the total number of international passengers in Japan, Narita International Airport is rightfully regarded as Japan’s gateway to the world.
“Narita is an important node between Asia and North America. Our network extends to 109 cities around the world. Compared to other airports around Asia, we have a very well-balanced network, especially with our network to North America, which accounts for sixteen percent of our traffic,” Natsume said.
“As for our partnership with U.S. airports, we have very strong ties with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We are currently having discussions with Denver International Airport so that when the inaugural flight is launched, we would like to conclude a sister airport agreement,” he added.
“As a multifunction airport that can meet the diverse needs for air transport in the Greater Capital Area of Tokyo, Narita aims to become the key international hub airport of East Asia and become an airport that is relied on, trusted, favored, and preferred by the customers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Haneda International Airport is capitalizing on its location in central Tokyo in the hopes of attracting more international flights.
“We will have to improve access between the two airports in the future. With the ‘open skies’ policy and the entry of low–cost carriers, passenger demand will increase,” said Isao Takashiro, president of Japan Airport Terminal, the largest shareholder in Haneda International Airport.