With tourism in Japan on the rise, the Japanese government is taking further steps to increase the number of visitors travelling to the country. It does so in the hope that this effort will generate economic growth as the population ages and shrinks, and that tourists might help to reinvigorate struggling rural communities. The government’s aim is to attract 40 million overseas visitors annually to the country by 2020.
With such ambitions, both government organisations and tourism businesses have put a number of initiatives in place to facilitate that growth.
Tackling the Language Barrier
A huge difficulty for people travelling to Japan is the language barrier. Very few Japanese people feel comfortable speaking other languages so it can be almost impossible for a foreign tourist to get help from someone on the street. So, in an effort to combat this issue, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has set up a 24-hour call line for tourists to get help with translation.
They offer translation from Japanese into English, Korean and Chinese, as well as information on public events, tourist attractions and even how to use public transport. Tourists can also email photos of brochures and menus to the center to be translated. The calls to the center are toll-free and the service is also free of charge. The new call center will certainly make travelling in Japan much easier for foreigners.
A huge difficulty for people travelling to Japan is the language barrier
Adequate Accommodation Measures
Accommodation services are struggling to keep up with the rising visitor numbers but Airbnb is trying hard to bridge the gap. In an effort to strengthen its services for guests and hosts, Airbnb has teamed up with 36 Japanese companies in a variety of industries, including airline, security and financial companies. It will also introduce Airbnb Plus – an improved version of the service which offers homes that have been inspected and verified by the company in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
However, the government’s recent crackdown on minipaku lodgings has caused a setback to both Airbnb’s plans and overall tourist accommodation options. Insisting that lodgings abide by licensing laws could go a long way to ensuring visitor safety when they travel to Japan so it could be a good thing in the end.
Rural Tourism and Night-Time Activities
The advantages of the government’s tourism initiatives are also being experienced by rural communities. The introduction of unlimited ride tickets offered by a railway company in the Shikoku region and events held in Saga in line with the release of a popular Thai drama have seen an increase in foreign visitors to more remote places. The government also promised to enhance the attractiveness of the regions outside major cities by developing the cultural assets and national parks in rural areas.
The average spending per foreign tourist has decreased in recent years so in an attempt to boost night-time spending, businesses are arranging special events for foreign tourists such as Japanese Taiko drum performances. Many hotels are also extending their business hours to allow guests to go out and enjoy the nightlife for as long as they wish. These are good ideas but more still needs to be done.
One issue that impedes late night spending is transportation. The subway system shuts down after 1AM so the only option is to take an expensive taxi ride wherever you want to go. However, Uber has come up with a possible solution. It will offer a taxi-hailing service, instead of its normal service as ride-sharing requires professional drivers in Japan. It is partnering with the taxi companies on the island of Awaji in a pilot scheme. Customers will use the Uber app to hail cabs from 20 local firms there.
In Hiroshima, Sokoiko! is a bicycle tour business that offers tourists a unique and more intimate experience for visiting the local sights. The company uses the city’s tourism bicycle rental service and plans tour routes in accordance with customers’ requests. Some like to cycle around the shopping areas while others prefer to take in the historical monuments. This is both an environmentally friendly and more economical tour option for visitors to the area.
Tourism has the potential to benefit so many businesses across the islands of Japan, and also the possibility for new start-ups to be established to cope with the rising number of foreign visitors. Only time will tell if the measures will be enough to reach the targets set, but, they’re certainly moves in the right direction.