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 Japan, a Net Exporter of Tourists, Working
 Hard to Attract Chinese Tourist

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Aug. 6, 2005 - TOKYO -- As China's growing economy draws more affluent people into the skies, travel agencies around the world are trying to lure them in for stopovers.

Japan, which does not fare as well as Europe or the United States in attracting tourists to its shores, expanded visa issuance for Chinese on July 25, allowing groups to apply for visas any where in the country, rather than in just three cities and five provinces, including Shandong and Jiangsu provinces, as under the old policy.

Chinese tourists are expected to give a boost to the government's Visit Japan campaign and the sluggish domestic tourist industry.

The first groups of Chinese tourists from some of the new areas arrived in Japan on the day the new policy came into effect.

About 110 Chinese in tour groups of about 20 people from eight provinces, including Shanxi and Hubei provinces, arrived at three airports, including Narita Airport.

A travel agency held up a banner that read "A hearfelt welcome" ahead of the groups that arrived at Narita. The tourists were all smiles when they received flower bouquets.

The groups will visit typical sightseeing cities, including Tokyo and Kyoto. About 100 of the tourists also visited 2005 World Exposition Aichi.

In 2000, the government lifted a ban on issuing tourist visas to Chinese, but visa issuance was limited on concerns over a rapid increase in overstayers who enter Japan as tourists.

As a result, the number of tourists from China last year stood at only about 47,500.

After the expansion in July, about 1.3 billion Chinese people will be able to apply for tourist visas.

The expansion apparently is aimed at improving relations with China, which soured over Japanese history textbooks, which China said gloss over Japan's atrocities during the war, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine. Class-A war criminals are enshrined there, along with war dead.

A high-ranking government official said the government expects Chinese tourists will come to understand Japanese daily life and culture.

"If grassroot exchanges increase, China's anti-Japanese sentiment will soften," he added.

Inns, hotels and sightseeing spots where Chinese tourists will visit and stay are excited about good business opportunities.

Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo, which hosted about 50 Chinese tourists from the first group to enter Japan after the expansion, set up a special counter to assist them and had its menu translated into Chinese.

The hotel, where 20,000 bookings were made by Chinese last year, predicts its occupancy rate will further increase with the expansion.

Tominoko Hotel in Kawaguchikomachi, Yamanashi Prefecture, commands a view of Mt Fuji, a popular sightseeing spot.

About 75 percent of the hotel's annual 50,000 guests are from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Hotel Manager Takashi Amano said some of the hotel employees are attending language classes to study Chinese.

Some stores in the Akihabara Electric Town in central Tokyo have five or more employees who can speak Chinese as some Chinese customers have proven to be big spenders, spending 1 million yen at a time.

Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Card and the China Association of Banks will jointly launch services this year allowing Chinese tourists to pay by credit card.

Since there are restrictions on the amount of the yuan Chinese tourists can take out of the country, the money they can spend shopping is limited, but Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Card's member stores allow them to spend freely within the range of the amount in their accounts.

A Mitsui Sumitomo employee said that with the number of credit cards issued by the China Association of Banks exceeding 800 million, more Chinese tourists will use its member stores.

The government plans to take advantage of the expansion of visa issuance for Chinese to gear up its strategy to promote tourism in the country.

In an attempt to increase the number of annual foreign tourists from the current six million to 10 million in 2010, Koizumi appeared in an overseas promotional video.

The revised law concerning foreign tourists, which will go into effect next spring, requires public transportation operators to display signs in several languages, helping to ensure that Chinese tourists enjoy their stay in Japan.

The Japan Association of Travel Agents also has its eye on the large number of prospective Chinese travelers.

According to the Visit Japan campaign headquarters, established by the public and private sectors, about 28.5 million Chinese traveled to foreign countries last year.

The World Tourism Organization believes the number of Chinese travelers will soar to about 50 million in the next five years.

Worldwide competition for Chinese tourists has intensified.

Yoshiyuki Nakamura, head of the organization's business division, said that in some respects, Japan's environment was worse for Chinese tourists than the Chinese environment was for Japanese tourists.

"Many hotels in China receive Japanese satellite broadcasts and offer announcements in Japanese, but only about four hotels in Japan have TV programs in Chinese," he said.

Under such circumstances, Chinese tourists cannot relax because they cannot hear their national language in a foreign country and the number of repeaters will not increase, he said.

The purpose of visits among Chinese tourists to Japan include business and sightseeing trips, vacations funded by companies as rewards and school excursions.

The appreciated Chinese currency also could boost travel among Chinese.

Whether the Japanese travel and tourism industries can capitalize on this opportunity remains to be seen.

Due to fiscal difficulties, the government cannot allow localities to rely on it to stimulate local economies. In response to this situation, the central government worked out a strategy to promote tourism three years ago.

Tourism is regarded as a promising business because it has a huge economic impact.

In addition to accommodation and transportation industries, the food and souvenir sectors also will benefit from increased tourism.

Tourism is said to have resulted in sales of goods and services amounting to about 53 trillion yen in fiscal 2003.

However, while the number of Japanese taking overseas trips increases, the number of visitors to Japan is only about one-third of the number that travel abroad, making Japan a net exporter of tourists.

Attracting Chinese tourists is one way to turn the tables.

Some Chinese tourists may overstay their visas during their journeys in Japan, but with bilateral relations at their lowest point, the expansion of visa issuance can be expected to deepen mutual understanding between the two countries.

By Kenichi Tsuruoka And Toru Takahashi


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Copyright (c) 2005, The Yomiuri Shimbun

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