Japan’s foreign tourism statistics released

Last year, the number of tourists worldwide reached an astonishing 1.035 billion arrivals, according to an annual survey by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Despite worldwide economic uncertainty, more people than ever before traveled to other countries.

The survey found that tourism around the world increased by 4 percent overall from 2011 to 2012. Europe is still the most visited area, with 535 million visitors, but visitor arrivals continued to increase in every region of the world except the Middle East.

The last 6 months has seen a month on month rise in the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan.  In September the number of visitors surged 31.7 percent over the previous year to 867,000, breaking the record for the month, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Reasons for the increase can be ascribed to the cheaper yen exchange rate and Japan’s higher profile with the announcement of Tokyo winning the 2020 Olympic bid.

Part of that upsurge reflects a recovery from the rapid and massive drop in tourism following the earthquake, tsunami and radiation fears in 2011, but it also supports the understanding that Japan is still an untapped tourist destination. Developing a larger tourist market can contribute to a healthy, diversified economy and serve as one source of economic vitality.

Japan has not yet developed its tourist market fully, but given the ongoing economic depression, it should be considered more seriously as an important industry. Though some Japanese are fearful of the result of a huge influx of tourists here after witnessing the impact of international tourism in some South Asian countries.

However, a more developed tourist industry would leave Japanese culture intact and unharmed since the Japanese economy is not as vulnerable to fluctuations as developing economies might be. It is unlikely that huge numbers of tourists will have negative effects on the already mature and established culture, or produce a tourism-addicted economy, in the way it might have once done in more fragile cultures and developing economies.

In the reporting month, the highest number of tourists came from Taiwan at 206,800, an all-time high for the month, leaving South Korean visitors second overall. China came in third with 156,300 visitors, up 28.5 percent for another all-time high for the month. Visitors from the UK showed a year on year increase of 20% with 17,800 visitors in July alone.

The Chinese number marked the first rebound in a year since last October, when year-on-year numbers fell because of the bilateral clash over the Japanese government’s effective nationalization in September 2012 of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the isles.

Visitors from Hong Kong and Thailand came to 55,400 and 29,300, respectively, also setting all-time highs for the reporting month.

But the number of South Korean visitors fell below 200,000 for the first time this year, apparently due to concern over the reported leaks of radioactive water at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, JNTO officials said Wednesday.

While the September total for South Korean visitors came to 164,500, up 12.9 percent, the growth marks a slowdown from the year-on-year growth rates in the period from January to July, which ranged between 28.6 and 45.5 percent.

In the previous month, South Korean visitors grew 6.9 percent — the slowest rate of the year.

The Japanese government is worried that radiation concerns harbored by the South Koreans may hamper efforts to achieve its goal of 10 million foreign visitors a year.

The tally for the first nine months was 7,731,000, with South Koreans accounting for 25 percent. Since no sharp recovery is expected in South Korean visitors, the organization plans to encourage people in Southeast Asia to visit Japan for the Christmas holidays.

Meanwhile the estimated number of Japanese overseas travelers in August 2013 was 1,842,000, a 6.2% decrease over August 2012. The outbound figure decreased over the same month of the previous year as it has for seven straight months.

The number of travelers to East Asian destinations such as Korea (-22.0%) is still decreasing but the ratio of decrease shrank in  comparison with the recent four months. On the other hand, number of travelers to Vietnam, Thailand and Hawaii all showed small increases.

Sources:  Japan Tourism Marketing Co, The Japan Times

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