The Minister for Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Keiichi Ishii, recently revealed that the the number of foreign tourists to Japan in 2015 exceeded an estimated 19 million and in so doing, has surpassed the number of people from Japan who travelled overseas.
Year over year this represents an increase of visitors by some 40%, or a rise of more than 10 million people since 2012. The number of Japanese people who went the other way and made overseas trips is estimated to be around 15 million. This makes 2015 the first time since 1970 in which inbound travel exceeded outbound.
The numbers represent a clear success story for the Japanese government and for the country as a whole as it seeks to readjust its economy. A weak yen has come at the perfect time for growing numbers of middle-class consumers in neighbouring Asian countries and combines with the country`s continued soft-power influence across the world.
Tourism was one of the sectors targeted by the government as a potential growth point and through simplifying visa requirements and creating consumption (sales) tax exemptions their influence has clearly had a positive impact.
The growing number of tourists are now becoming a significant consumer group within Japan, helping to push more spending into areas such as domestic transport, accommodation and consumer goods.
In terms of real estate, we have seen the impact of large single travellers pushing the hotel laws into greater flexibility. A push for more bed space has led to a number of new property developments and the changing nature of shoppers has led to a number of new commercial properties including a new Bic Camera store at Haneda Airport, the coming Lotte Duty-Free Shop Ginza and the Tokyu Plaza Ginza that is scheduled to open in March next year.
As Tokyo leads however, the rest of Japan still has some catching up to do. In more rural areas of the country, in addition to multilingual tourist spots, the development of inn facilities and public Wi-Fi is still behind what it needs to be – some areas of Japan that have long-once lost any relevance to domestic tourist groups have received unexpected interest from overseas travellers and as a result are struggling to cope.
Of course, the changing character of Japan`s traveller statistics also represents the nature of Japanese society in general, with an older population that has seen its salaries rise just slightly in recent years. The number of Japanese travelling abroad peaked in 2012 at 18.49 million people, before falling to 16.9 million people last year and just 14.87 million people this year.