Industry Update: Tourism Market in Japan

Sep 13, 2010


The Japanese government estimates that the tourism industry in Japan can potentially provide 5.3% of GDP and 6.7% of total employment. Realising the huge economic potential of inbound tourism, the Japanese government has implemented the ‘Visit Japan’ campaign (Inbound Travel Promotion Project), along with a ‘Tourism Promotion Law’, which have the objective of increasing the number of inbound tourists to 10 million.

However, since the tourism industry is sensitive to the economic environment, as seen by the downturn in 2009 that saw a 5% reduction in tourists, the Japanese government has deregulated the travel industry, allowing small to medium travel companies to expand the scope of their operations. A new initiative is also under way that offers low interest loans to tourism related service companies (such as accommodation) in the hope of improving the environment for inbound tourists. Seeing the great potential of the Asian market, visa conditions for Chinese tourists have been loosened and the government is attempting to standardise and improve the multilingual services of hotels. Narita and Haneda Airport are extending runways and increasing numbers of flights.

Seeing the potential of the tourism market, M&A activities by Asian investors are increasing in the hotel industry. According to Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, there are 9,603 hotels and 50,846 Ryokan (Japanese traditional style hostels) in Japan, and from this market 40 hotels were taken over in 2009 (over 70 hotels in 2004 and 2007). Particularly larger size M&As were initiated recently by Asian investors, such as TCC Group (Thailand) - Crown Plaza Kobe, YTL (Malaysia) - Hilton Niseko Village, and RECAP (Singapore) - Comfort Hotel Nihombashi (Hotel Intelligence Report 2010).

Another characteristic of the Japanese tourism market is the emergence of ‘new’ tourism industries. The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) categorises ‘new’ tourism into: industry tourism, eco tourism, green tourism, health/medical tourism, long stay and cultural tourism. Australia is one of the most popular destinations for ‘long stay’ holidays for elderly Japanese people due to Australia’s sophisticated medical services and high level of security. In addition to this, eco tourism in Australia is popular for Japanese tourists, and a considerable amount of Japanese students are learning tourism and hospitality in Australia. In regards to Australian tourists, apart from the popular ski resorts, recently green tourism and cultural tourism in Japan are becoming attractive, as rural areas in Japan still mostly retain a traditional lifestyle, and the environment and its ecosystems are relatively untouched.

The Japanese government and medical industry promote health/medical tourism, which consists of stays at recuperation places (i.e. spring hots, spas, nursing homes etc) or hospitals with advanced technology to cure and rehabilitate sickness. Japan has the largest number of medical devices per capita, nursing services are reputable worldwide, and medical costs are relatively cheaper than other developed countries. Singapore is a prime example of this type of tourism as more than 300,000 foreign patients visited Singapore last year. The Korean government is also undertaking such an initiative, as the government invested in medical complexes and implemented a “medical visa” targeting patients from China and Russia (Weekly Diamond 24/4/2010, p.49).