Japan is aggressively promoting tourism to lift domestic gross product and stimulate the economy before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games—and beyond. Japan’s newly revised tourism program is to grow international visits to 40 million by 2020.

With the help of a weakened yen, relaxed visa policies, increasing affluence in neighboring countries, and government tourism marketing efforts, Japan attracted 19.7 million tourists in 2015, who spent 3.5 trillion yen ($30 billion), according to data released by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) in January of 2016. In June 2016, 1.99 million visitors came to Japan, an increase of 23.9 percent from the same month the year prior, according to JNTO, representing an increase from the 15.3 percent year-on-year growth in May.

Chinese travelers accounted for a quarter of all visitors to Japan in 2015 (5 million), and were responsible for 41 percent of all tourism spending. This was followed by visitors from Taiwan, and then South Korea. These three countries accounted for 67 percent of all foreign visitors to Japan.

In response to the spike in in-bound tourism of 47 percent in 2015, in late March 2016, the Japanese government increased its targeted figure for foreign tourists from 20 million. The new goal of 40 million by 2020 requires an average growth rate of 19 percent per year for the next four years.

Japan’s multi-pronged approach to attract more foreigners outside of Asia includes promoting “real” Japan and growing regional tourism. As part of this effort, regional tourism offices along transportation routes now offer multilingual maps and travel guidebooks linked to smartphone apps. Pamphlets educate travelers about proper etiquette in Japan and regional destinations’ histories, activities, events and food and lifestyles. Wi-Fi spots are increasing connectivity for in-bound travelers and multilingual signage is facilitating the traveler’s journey.

New airline routes, in particular with LCCs (low-cost carriers), to Japan’s regional cities, and improved transportation systems that accept passes—like the Japan Rail Pass—make it easier for foreigners to visit attractions and regions previously unexplored by most travelers. New bullet train extensions and ultra modern cars like those on the Hokkaido Shinkansen (Bullet Train), which opened in March 2016 (part of the Tohoku Shinkansen), connect Tokyo with rural areas previously hard to access. Similarly, the Hokuriku Shinkansen offers travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa—a popular tourist destination—in just 2.5 hours.

The recent G-7 Summits and U.S. President Barrack Obama’s visit helped direct tourism interest beyond the popular Tokyo-Mount Fuji-Kyoto “Golden Route.” Following Obama’s well received visit to Hiroshima in May 2016—a first for a serving U.S. president—Hiroshima saw an uptick in tourism. Likewise, the G-7 Summits showcased regional city charms and cultures, including the beauty and sentimentalism of the Ise-Jingu (shrine).

But can Japan meet its 2020 tourism goals? Its challenges include the recent extreme currency fluctuations, further tapping the potential of Japan’s undeveloped tourism resources, and overcoming natural disasters. To accommodate the desired visitor influx, Japan needs to build new hotels or redevelop older ones and make Japanese inns welcoming to foreigners, or provide government support for AirBnb or other home-sharing programs.

While the country is making infrastructure improvements and headway with travel marketing, it needs to further enhance the facilitation of incoming independent international travelers. Japan will benefit from the help, exposure, and connections with outside resources from other countries in order to lure 40 million visitors there by 2020.

By Dave Erdman of PamRim Group and PRTech, LLC.  
as shown on the CONSUL website: http://travelconsul.com/blog