June 13, 2024

RECOVERY:
The number of tourists last year saw a significant increase from 3.8 million tourists the previous year, still below 32 million visitors in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic

Japan welcomed 25 million tourists last year, the largest number since 2019, as a weak yen helped attract post-COVID-19 pandemic visitors in a boost to the nation’s fragile economy.

The number of inbound tourists last year compared with 3.8 million in 2022, the Japanese National Tourism Organization reported yesterday.

Last month also marked the seventh consecutive month in which the number of foreign visitors exceeded 2 million, for the highest figure in that month on record.

Photo: Reuters

The return of large numbers of visitors to Japan is a positive development for an economy that shrank at the sharpest pace since the height of the pandemic in the summer. Weakness in the currency has helped boost tourists’ spending power, making Japan a much more affordable destination. The yen averaged about 140.5 against the US dollar last year.

Spending by visitors totaled a record ¥5.3 trillion (US$35.9 billion) last year, up by about 10 percent compared with the tally in 2019, before the pandemic, while spending per person increased by almost 34 percent to ¥212,000, the Japan Tourism Agency said.

Outlays by visitors came to ¥1.7 trillion in the final quarter of last year, a 21 percent increase from the third quarter, a positive result for the Japanese economy as domestic demand wilts due to high prices.

“GDP will swing back to a positive reading in the fourth quarter with help from strong inbound tourism. I don’t see any factors that could slow down the tourism recovery,” Daiwa Securities Co chief market economist Mari Iwashita said. “But I’m not sure if domestic spending will recover into positive readings because there are some lingering effects of inflation on domestic consumers.”

Still, the annual number of visitors remains below the 32 million figure recorded in 2019. Inbound tourists from China, the largest group before the pandemic and the biggest spenders, also lag behind pre-COVID-19 numbers at 2.4 million people compared with 9.6 million visitors in 2019, despite the end of Beijing’s ban on tour groups to Japan.

China has been struggling with its own gloomy economic data, while tensions also remain over Japan’s release of wastewater from its Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant reactor.

The largest number of visitors came from South Korea and Taiwan last year, with 7 million and 4 million respectively. Singapore and the US were also among the nations with more tourists visiting Japan than before the pandemic.

The Japanese government has set an ambitious goal for 2030 of 60 million visitors, and a target of ¥15 trillion for their spending, according to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

It remains to be seen how the Noto earthquake would affect tourism.

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