According to The Asahi Shimbun, despite a bitter diplomatic row with South Korea and a drop in tourists from that nation, records were broken in 2019 for the number of foreign tourists coming to Japan and the amount they spent.
The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) released figures on Jan. 17 that showed foreign tourists spent a total of 4.811 trillion yen (US$44 billion), an increase of 6.5 percent over 2018.
The number of foreign tourists increased by 2.2 percent to 31.882 million.
The spending and tourist numbers represented the seventh straight year in which records were set in both areas.
However, the spat with South Korea led to a 25.9-percent decline in tourists from that nation to 5.584 million. The drop was the first since 2011 when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck.
The decrease meant the ratio of South Korean tourists fell from about 25 percent to 17 percent of the total.
While the decrease was caused in part by the canceling or reduction of some flights to Japan from South Korea, the first week of January showed an improvement in the number of flights in comparison to the end of October, when the winter flight schedule began.
Numbers from other nations were robust.
China topped the list with 9.594 million tourists, a 14.5 percent increase. Tourists from Southeast Asia increased by 15.2 percent while those from Europe, North America and Australia increased by 13.9 percent.
The higher numbers were helped by new routes flown by low-cost carriers as well as the hosting of the Rugby World Cup.
With Tokyo hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, the government has set goals for the year of 40 million foreign tourists and total spending by such tourists of 8 trillion yen. But to achieve those two goals, the number of foreign tourists will have to increase by about 20 percent over 2019, with each tourist spending 200,000 yen.
However, in 2019, per capita spending by foreign tourists in Japan was only 158,000 yen, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2018.
Hiroshi Tabata, the JTA commissioner, said the Olympics and Paralympics will boost the foreign spotlight on Japan.
“This will be an excellent opportunity to increase the number of occupied airline seats so I hope the public and private sectors work together to reach the goal,” Tabata said.
Per capita spending in 2019 increased, in part, because fans who attended the Rugby World Cup remained in Japan longer than the typical foreign tourist.
Tabata said efforts would be made to improve the offerings provided by tourist destinations so those from Asia will decide to extend their stays by one or two nights.
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