Tourism Government Initiatives

Tourism Government Initiatives

Strengthening service systems for tourists until the recovery of inbound tourism

The Japanese government has designated tourism as a pillar of its growth strategy and a key to regional revitalization. In March 2016, at the "Tourism Vision Design Council for supporting the tomorrow of Japan," it set a target of 40 million foreign visitors to Japan by 2020 and 60 million by 2030. On the other hand, due to the impact of the novel coronavirus, inbound demand from all areas has decreased significantly. There has also been a big drop in domestic tourism demand due to the impact of travel cancellations, reluctance to make bookings, and self-restraint on movement. This has seriously affected not only the travel and accommodation industry, but also local transportation, restaurants, and goods sales. Depending on the situation of the coronavirus and the recovery of travel demand, the government plans to prepare initiatives for a full-fledged inbound recovery while stimulating domestic travel demand, which is the driving force of tourism demand for the time being, with measures to prevent the spread of the infection.

(1)DX (Digital Transformation) in tourism

Incorporating DX into the tourism sector by using cutting-edge ICT to innovate products, services, and business models, is an urgent issue for improving Japan's tourism competitiveness. It is also indispensable to improve the productivity and add value to the tourism business through DX in order to rebuild the local economy that has been seriously damaged by the novel coronavirus.

In July 2020, the Headquarters for Overcoming Population Decline and Vitalizing Local Economy in Japan, established under the Cabinet, clearly announced its strong support for DX as a policy direction for regional revitalization. In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has allocated 3.88 billion yen for DX in local governments in its FY 2021-22 budget request. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has published the Smart Resort Handbook, which summarizes information on how to attract visitors to Japan and promote consumption through DX, as well as how to increase the productivity and sustainability of regions and create a highly internationally competitive tourism industry (See Figure 4).

Here is an example of how DX is being used in the tourism sector to solve social issues. The city of Kyoto, where overtourism has become a serious problem, is using AI to analyse a combination of past data and the number of people at tourist spots to provide consumers with traffic congestion forecasts and encourage them to change their behaviour (change their destination or time of visit). In addition, with the novel coronavirus pandemic calling for a "new form of travel," examples of maintaining contact with consumers through virtual tours and achieving advanced hygiene management through non-contact services at hotels, shopping malls, and entertainment facilities are beginning to appear in various parts of Japan.

Furthermore, ICT is also expected to be used in public relations and promotion of tourism to stimulate domestic tourism demand and inbound tourism after corona, as well as in developing a welcoming environment until inbound tourism recovers (multilingual support and free Wi-Fi at tourist sites, automation of passenger procedures at air and sea ports, introduction of electronic gates for customs procedures, etc.).

(Figure4)The latest technologies used in Tourism x Tech

(Figure4)The latest technologies used in Tourism x Tech
Technology Features Use Cases
5th Generation (5G)
  • Multiple concurrent connections
  • Ultra high-speed
  • Ultra-low latency
  • Automated driving
  • Tourist attraction app
  • Fan meetings
  • Online tours
Wi-Fi 6
  • High-speed communication
  • Multiple concurrent connections
  • VR/AR
  • Digital signage
  • Ability to understand the state of objects
  • Remote operation
  • Information on vacant toilets or parking spaces, etc.
Global Positioning System
  • People’s location
  • Understanding crowd density
  • Providing traffic congestion information
  • Sales promotion activities combined with behavior and purchase history
Biometric authentication
  • Face or voice recognition
  • Smart key
  • Providing information by customer
  • Providing a different experience through computer graphics (CG)
  • Virtual tours
  • Navigation
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Information processing technology similar to human thought processes
  • Chatbots
  • Setting up bus routes
  • Sensors
  • Intelligent control
  • Intelligent mechanical systems with drives
  • Reception and guidance
  • Robots specialized in cleaning, transportation, cooking, etc.
Big Data
  • Websites and smartphones
  • Analysis and utilization of large amounts of information obtained from various sensors
  • Personal services
  • Traffic congestion forecasting
Automated driving
  • Driving without human control
  • Universal service for mobility

(2) Strengthening of external communication to promote inbound tourism

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has been working to make it easier for foreign tourists visiting Japan to obtain information about the country.By providing information on visas and other requirements for visiting Japan, promptly disseminating information in times of disasters, strengthening digital marketing, improving data analysis, and utilizing data for promotion, they are trying to provide accurate information and conduct effective promotion based on the attributes and interests of the customers.

The government is aiming to advertise Japan to the world, and is targeting Western countries, large emerging markets, the young, and the wealthy to cultivate a Japanophile segment. To achieve this, overseas Japanese government establishments disseminate content on Japan (tourism, culture, history, trends, etc.) provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, JNTO, local public organizations, local media, etc. via social media. The branches of Japan House located in Sao Paulo, London, and Los Angeles promote Japanese culture, traditions, science, and technology, along with local presentations and workshops by experts who embody the "Japanese brand". The use of social media is an upgrade from the old PR tools for tourism (mainly paper-based and recorded media). Publishing information on the internet that can be accessed by anyone also enhances the transparency of the information.

(3)Expansion of the consumption tax exemption system for foreign tourists visiting Japan

The consumption tax exemption system for foreign tourists visiting Japan is revised every year to meet the needs of both users and businesses (See Figure 5). Under the May 2016 amendment, the minimum purchase amount subject to tax exemption has been reduced to 5,000 JPY. Tax exemptions are also available for low-cost consumer goods, such as cosmetics, medicines, toiletries, as well as folk art and traditional crafts that are expected to have a ripple effect on local communities, thereby encouraging inbound consumption by foreign tourists visiting Japan. In the 2018 tax reform, the Ministry of Finance and the Japan Tourism Agency made general goods and consumables eligible for tax exemption if the total value of the purchase exceeds 5,000 JPY.

In recent years, vending machines equipped with IoT technology that sell souvenirs to foreign tourists visiting Japan have become popular. In response to businesses demanding that goods sold without employees be tax exempted, the 2020 amendment eliminates the need of staff for vending machines that meet certain criteria. Since the tax exemption procedure is completed on the basis of facial recognition and optical character recognition without the need of asking for the buyer's passport, it is expected that duty free sales will increase even in rural areas where it is difficult to secure staff with foreign language skills.

(Figure5)Revisions to the consumption tax exemption system

Revisions to the consumption tax exemption system
Date Amendment details
Oct 2014
  • Addition of consumables (food, cosmetics, medicines, etc.) to duty free items
Apr 2015
  • Permission to use special counters at SC and shopping districts
May 2016
  • Reduction of the minimum purchase amount
  • Addition of provision and storage of purchaser's declaration by electromagnetic recording
  • Simplification of duty-free procedures for direct shipment of duty-free goods abroad
Oct 2017
  • Addition of liquor tax exemption for sake breweries
Jul 2018
  • Addition of a combined exemption for general goods / consumables
Jul 2019
  • Addition of tax exemption system at temporary sales areas
Apr 2020
  • Digitalization of tax exemption procedures

(4)Multilingual support

With the increasing number of foreign tourists visiting Japan, it is important to provide multilingual support to enhance the satisfaction level of the travel experience. In order to create a more comfortable and stress-free travel environment at airports, harbours, public transportation, and tourist attractions, the government and local authorities are working to establish a comprehensive multilingual information sharing system through tourist information centres, digital signage, smartphones, and so on. In addition, the Council for Multilingual Measures, established in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, has set up a portal site with reference materials on multilingual support measures and examples of advanced initiatives of local governments and private organizations to promote multilingual support throughout the country. It also actively introduces venture companies that provide multilingual services.

To give an example of multilingual support, Hotel Mystays has introduced Pepper, a humanoid robot developed by Softbank, as a remote concierge. Pepper works in cooperation with the call centre of Hotel Mystays to provide language support in Japanese, English, and Chinese. This is the first such trial in the Japanese hotel industry, and is being promoted not only as a means of multilingual support but also a way to solve the shortage of human resources.

In another case, Kamakura city in Kanagawa prefecture has signed an agreement with ORIX Corporation to introduce an information service for foreign tourists visiting Japan. By scanning NFC (Near Field Communication) equipped plates or 2D barcodes with a mobile device such as a smartphone, it is possible to obtain tourist information translated into the language corresponding to the device's language setting (Japanese, English, Chinese, or Korean). Moreover, there are plans to develop a service that uses AR (Augmented Reality) technology to translate information written in Japanese into multiple languages in real-time.

Apart from this, the interpreter guide system was changed significantly in 2018 to meet the rapidly increasing demand for inbound travel. The occupational monopoly regulation of licensed tour-guide interpreters has been abolished, and from now on, even people who do not hold a formal qualification can provide tour-guide interpreter services for a fee. This amendment aims to secure a good quantity of tour-guide interpreters while also ensuring a certain standard of quality. As a result, it is expected that the number of people who can work on private tours for foreign tourists will increase.

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