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UK visitor numbers to Japan from January to August 2015 are up 20.7% year-on-year, and the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) hopes to build on this growth in the run up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.
“With two major events one after the other now is the time for us to find greater potential in Europe,” said Mamoru Kobori, Executive Vice President of the JNTO.
“Until recently, for the Japanese travel industry, the US market was dominant. There was much less awareness of and effort and budget dedicated to the UK and Europe. But although those inbound markets are not big in comparison with the US or Asian markets, European markets are high quality and we want to take better care of them. We would target another 10-20% increase in UK visitors next year. Currently just 0.04% of UK overseas travellers visit Japan, so although the market is small there is great potential for growth.”
Japan has seen inbound tourism boom in the last two to three years, with much of the growth down to China. Chinese visitor numbers are expected to rise to 5 million this year, up from 2.4 million last year. In comparison the UK market is still very small, at less than a quarter of a million.
The JNTO hopes to target niche markets in the UK, including honeymooners, adventure tourists and skiers, and has already seen the benefit of ski and snow promotions it has undertaken in the past few years, with a rise in UK, Australian and Singaporean skiers coming to Niseko.
However the mass UK market remains middle aged to older travellers who plan to visit Japan just once and focus on the major sights of Tokyo and Kyoto. The JNTO intends to focus on broadening the scope of travel for these visitors by introducing then to lesser-known, off the beaten track sights, and by promoting traditional experiences including hot spring resorts and culinary tours.
A new Finnair flight to Fukuoka launching next summer will open up an extra regional gateway in Japan from Europe, and travellers will be able to access the north of the country by bullet train after the high-speed Shinkansen train connection to Hokkaido opens on March 26 next year. This will connect Tokyo with Hakodate in 4hrs and 10 minutes, and travel on it will be included in the Japan Rail Pass, which is available for £152 for seven days of unlimited use.
Kobori attributes the UK growth in part to the excellent value Japan currently offers. Historically known as an expensive destination, this is no longer the case, with the 2015 Post Office Long Haul Report showing Tokyo is now 50% cheaper for UK tourists than it was in 2013.
To cope with the boom in tourists, investment is being made in new hotels, with upcoming luxury openings including the Aman brand’s first hot spring resort in Japan, Amanemu, and a Four Seasons in Kyoto.
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