Japan banks on inbound for travel growth

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto

Japan is Asia Pacific's second-largest travel market, and is expected to remain so for a long time; the growth markets of Southeast Asia and India still have a long way to go to catch up, says a recent report released by Phocuswright. But Japan is facing significant growth challenges. Its total travel market is projected to clock a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of just 2 per cent from 2017 to 2021, compared to 10 per cent for China and 9 per cent for India, the region's biggest growth engines.

Facing stagnation, population decline and GDP growth rates below 1 per cent, the Japanese government is prioritising travel to help see the nation through stark economic times. While domestic travel is being encouraged with various subsidies for travellers, inbound travel has the bigger potential payoff. The Japanese National Tourism Organisation's targets are ambitious and extend out more than a decade: 40 million international visitors a year by 2020; and 60 million visitors a year by 2030.About 28.69 million foreign tourists visited Japan last year.

The country has been showing promising inbound visitor growth. Japan received 26.2 million international visitors from January to November 2017, 19 per cent higher than the same period in 2016. The weakness of the yen is helping make Japan, already a popular destination, into a more affordable one. Proximity to the massive and still-rising Chinese source market has been a major boon. Over the next few years, Tokyo's upcoming turn as Olympic host (2020) will help with visibility and infrastructure projects, as well as drawing huge numbers of visitors before and during the Games. The Japanese travel market is projected to expand 5 per cent to $108 billion in 2020, before a post-Olympics correction brings it down to $106 billion in 2021, Phocuswright projects.

The popularity of Kyoto has been particularly felt among Emirati nationals, which recorded an increase of 18 per cent in overnight stays in 2017, compared to 2016 figures. Kyoto, Japan’s ancient imperial capital for over 1,000 years and home to Japan’s many cultural traditions, arts and crafts, has struck a chord with the hearts and minds of an increasing number of nationals from the Middle East, with the total number of visitors from the region choosing to overnight in Kyoto increasing by 8 per cent in 2017 compared to 2016 figures.

To further encourage Middle Eastern guests to visit and return to Kyoto, Kyoto City Tourism Association has launched a new experiential travel package specifically designed for Middle Eastern guests. Titled ‘I’m Turning Japanese!’, the holiday package includes two-nights’ stay at either a four-star or five-star hotel with breakfast, city tour, authentic traditional kimono wearing experience, and original ramen noodle cooking class at Kyoto’s certified Halal Ramen restaurant.

The ‘I’m Turning Japanese’ promotional package is valid until August 31 this year. Four-star packages with stays at the Hotel Keihan Kyoto Grande start from Dh1,550 ($422) for two people twin room share, and from Dh1,890 ($515) for a five-star package with stays at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto, for two people, twin room share.

Japan was ranked 6th place among the non-OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) destinations in the annual Mastercard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2017, moving up two places from the previous year, and Tokyo was ranked the top out of 47 prefectures of Japan. To make Muslim and Middle Eastern guests as welcome and comfortable as possible, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government holds seminars five times a year to educate the participants with the cultural and religious needs of Muslim guests, provides individual counselling to hotels, hospitality and restaurant partners and other commercial entities, and publishes “Tokyo Muslim Travellers’ Guide” with thorough information on where to eat, pray, stay and shop for Muslim travellers.

Capital city Tokyo offers a mix of traditions and exciting urban culture with variety of entertainment, shopping and dining options and the latest tourist attractions to travel industry professionals attending the exhibition. The city has several large-scale downtown areas, including Ginza where luxury brand shops and department stores stand side by side, the sleepless Shinjuku that has become the "new city centre of Tokyo," Asakusa which is reminiscent of the traditional Edo, and Shibuya and Harajuku that start the trends for the young people. Other unique areas include the computer town Akihabara, where manga and anime fans flock from around the world. 

With daily direct flights with Emirates from Dubai to both Tokyo / Haneda and Tokyo / Narita International Airports and Etihad from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo / Narita Airport, Tokyo is easily accessible.