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Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Boosting Japan's flagging tourism
In 2010, a record number 8,612,000 tourists from abroad visited Japan — up 26.8 percent from 2009 — and it was hoped that more than 10 million tourists would visit this year. But the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters dashed this hope.
The news is not all bad, however. China recently lifted restrictions on visits to Japan with the exception of Fukushima Prefecture. Chinese tourists have begun once again to visit Kyushu, Kansai and even Tokyo.
Even so, it is unlikely that there will be a surge of foreign tourists in coming months. In March, 352,800 visitors from abroad entered Japan — just half the corresponding number the previous year. The figure for April was even worse, plunging by more than 60 percent compared with the previous year at under 300,000.
The Japanese government, travel agencies, tourism associations, tourism-related businesses, transportation companies and local governments should work together to make Japanese tourism more attractive.
The top task at hand is for the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to bring the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant's reactors in Fukushima under control as fast as possible.
The government also must disseminate accurate information as quickly as possible on the efforts being made to end the nuclear crisis, on radiation levels in various areas of Japan and on the progress being made to rebuild infrastructure in the areas of Tohoku that were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.
Many visitors comment that they have been most impressed with the beauty and culture of Japan and the hospitality of its people. But Japan has its share of downsides, including high costs and difficult-to-understand information on transportation and tourist attractions.
If Japan's tourist industry remains complacent and makes no effort to improve its shortcomings, the number of tourists visiting Japan will never reach the goal set by the government.
Tourism agencies should put together travel packages suitable for a wide range of budgets. Maps and signs should be written in a manner that is easy to understand for non-Japanese.
Tour guides should at the very least be fluent in English, if not additional foreign languages, and people working at sites popular with tourists, including temples, shrines, restaurants and bars, should be capable of giving brief explanations in English.
Grass-roots efforts as well as government efforts will be equally important.