Japan eyes shift to ‘quality’ experiences as inbound tourism recovers – Nationwide
Japan’s planned end of existing COVID-19 border control measures early next month is fueling hopes for a further recovery in inbound tourists to pre-pandemic levels and beyond. The country is set to change its legal classification of the coronavirus and start treating it the same as the seasonal flu on May 8. Incoming travellers will no longer be required to show proof that they have been vaccinated at least three times or present a negative test result.
Inbound tourism had already become an integral part of Japan’s economy prior to the imposition of COVID restrictions and its revival will likely be a welcome boost. The government has set a target for spending per visitor of 200,000 yen in 2025, up from the pre-pandemic figure of about 160,000 yen. It also wants to encourage foreign visitors to spend more time in the countryside on trips. They spent only a night or so on average in 2019. A weaker yen and pent-up demand are expected to serve as a tailwind to inbound tourism in the short-term. For the longer-term, Japan needs to focus more on “quality” experiences, industry experts say, with some areas already promoting on gastronomy tourism.
In the first three months of 2023, 4.79 million foreign travellers visited Japan, recovering to about 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels. The rebound was driven mainly by those from South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the United States, according to Japanese government data. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese travellers, who used to account for about a third of total visitors to Japan, plunged 93.4 percent from January-March 2019, as the country still limits group tours by its citizens despite the end of its strict zero-COVID policy.
The strong recovery in overall figures prompted Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute, to project that the monthly number of inbound tourists will return to the pre-pandemic level in August, six months earlier than his initial estimate. For the January-March quarter, foreign visitors, including those on business trips, spent an estimated 212,000 yen on average during stays in Japan, including hotels, food, entertainment, shopping and transportation, government data showed. When the figure is limited to foreign tourists, it fell to around 186,000 yen.
Yellow sand blankets parts of Japan – Western & Northern Japan
A yellow sandstorm covered wide areas of western and northern Japan in the middle of April, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency to warn of possible disruptions to transportation due to poor visibility. In Osaka, visibility was about five kilometres. Other areas affected included Fukuoka, Nagoya, Sendai and Sapporo, the agency reported. Yellow sand was also observed above parts of Tokyo for the first time since May 2021. The yellow sand, which is carried on westerly winds from China, reached Japan and continued until April 15th.
Earlier that week, China’s capital of Beijing and much of the country’s north were blanketed by the sandstorm. The storms are a frequent occurrence in spring as sand from the Gobi and other western deserts blow in an easterly direction..
Japan declares war on hay fever – Nationwide
Japan’s prime minister vowed to tackle an insidious enemy that causes enormous economic damage and misery for the country’s citizens each year: pollen. Japan’s spring season might be best known for the blooming of its famed cherry blossoms and the good cheer of flower-watching picnics, but for many it is mostly synonymous with sneezes. Each spring, the country’s vast tracts of cedar trees in particular release potent clouds of pollen that prompt many to seek relief from prescription medication, but also surgical masks and even special glasses.
This year’s season has been described as the worst in around a decade by experts and sufferers alike, prompting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to convene the country’s first ever high-level meeting to tackle it. Among the proposals are cutting down cedar trees to replace them with species that produce less pollen, and using artificial intelligence like supercomputers to “fundamentally improve” Japan’s hay fever forecast system, land minister Tetsuo Saito told reporters.
The problem is so endemic it afflicts about 40 percent of the Japanese population, according to one nationwide survey. And the economic impact is sizable because of productivity losses from workers affected by hay fever. A 2020 poll by electronics giant Panasonic estimated the nation incurs an economic loss of over 220 billion yen each day during the worst of the pollen season.