Japan seeks foreign tourists to boost economy

Fri Oct 3, 2008 3:24am EDT
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By Naoto Okamura

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - For a long time, Japan was seen as an expensive travel destination, largely inaccessible due to the language barrier, with Mount Fuji and Geisha girls the main attractions.

But Japan is now keen to attract tourists, with the government seeking foreign visitors as a potentially lucrative market to help shore up the domestic tourism industry and revitalize its flagging economy amid rapidly aging population.

And industry analysts believe getting a bigger share of Chinese tourists is key, given the country's booming economy and growing ranks of newly rich with lots of disposable income and the desire to travel and spend on luxury goods.

A 2003 government initiative advocated attracting 10 million foreign tourists a year, and their cash, by 2010. As part of this scheme, the government launched its "Visit Japan Campaign" globally, and the Tourism Agency opened on October 1st this year.

Such efforts have paid off. In 2007, a record 8.4 million foreign tourists visited Japan, up about 14 percent from the previous year, according to the government-affiliated Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO).

"At this pace of increase, we think we can achieve the 10 million target," said Kazuhiko Kanazashi, a Japan Tourism Agency official.


Stronger currencies against yen, along with years of flat or slipping prices in Japan, mean the country is not as expensive for many to visit as it once was.   Continued...

<p>A maiko, (apprentice geisha) from the Gion district in Kyoto, performs a dance at an event to promote Kyoto's traditional culture in Tokyo, July 4, 2008. REUTERS/Toru Hanai</p>