Destination Japan


Cherry blossom-hungry travellers have long known about Japan’s unique tourism appeal. But now, with ambitious new targets to meet, the Asian powerhouse is set to diversify its offerings. Emily Millett writes.

Japan is a land of unique curiosities. A land which must be seen and experienced in person in order to be truly appreciated. And as its ‘bucket-list’ status increases year-on-year, growing numbers of travellers are making the journey to unfold the secrets and mysteries of this faraway Asian destination.

Proving Japan’s increasing international appeal, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) recently announced that the number of inbound visitor arrivals exceeded 30 million for the first time in-mid December last year, with the number of arrivals between January and December reaching 31.192 million as of December 18, 2018. This figure marks an 8.7 per cent year-on-year increment when compared with 2017.


Commenting on this, president, JNTO, Satoshi Seino said: “The number of international tourists visiting Japan exceeded 30 million for the first time. Looking back on [2018], Japan experienced a number of natural disasters in succession, such as earthquakes and torrential rains. Although these events affected inbound tourism, Japan has recovered so rapidly, thanks to the nation-wide efforts, and still hit this record high.”

The destination’s next target is to increase this number to 40 million by 2020, when Tokyo is set to host the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. A longer-term goal is also in place to boost the figure to 60 million in 2030 and establish the tourism industry as a key growth sector.

According to director and executive officer, marketing and sales strategy, JR West Hotels, Ryuta Harada, the MENA market’s contribution to annual visitor arrival figures in Japan is also on the rise, thanks to Emirates Airlines’ newly introduced daily flight services between Kansai and Dubai.

“We see a rising number of travellers from the MENA region and Muslim countries,” Harada told TTG. “In order to meet the specific needs of these Muslim travellers, two restaurants at Hotel Granvia Kyoto have already obtained the local Halal certificate, and Qibla direction signs are already installed in all of our guest rooms. Hotel Vischio Osaka and Hotel Granvia Osaka/Okayama also provide halal-friendly menus.”

The key feeder market to Japan is currently East Asia in terms of tourist numbers, however, when it comes to length of stay and overall spending, Harada explained that America and Europe are leading the way.

“They visit Japan to experience not tangible but intangible things, such as local culture, history and nature, including experiences that can be enjoyed in each of the four seasons,” he told TTG. “We are very proud to operate hotels in western Japan, in Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima and Wakayama – all cities that are rich in Japanese culture and history.”


With JNTO setting ambitious targets for inbound tourism arrivals, the destination’s hospitality portfolio is set to see subsequent growth in the coming years, as Harada said: “Recently, the government set a new target of 60 million overseas tourists a year by 2030. Thus, there will be growing number of new hotels in major cities across Japan, especially in the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. With that said, and even though there is a concern of an oversupply of hotels, we see big potential for the continued growth of the inbound market.”

In a bid to keep up with the predicted increase in competition, JR West Hotels recently welcomed a new brand to its collection, which resulted in the grand opening of Hotel Vischio Osaka and the rebranding of Hotel Vischio Amagasaki in June 2018. Also on the cards is the scheduled opening of Hotel Vischio Kyoto by Granvia on May 30 this year.

“The new-brand hotel Vischio of JR West Hotels retains the quality of Hotel Granvia, while placing emphasis on accommodations with a sophisticated urban and modern flair,” Harada told TTG. “The brand was born out of our desire to express a place of ‘urban refuge’, where our guests can recover from their tiring journey and gain a sense of well-being during their stay.”

Hotel Vischio Kyoto by Granvia is located next to Kyoto Station, and once open, will be easily accessible via the Shinkansen express trains and subway lines.

“With these new hotels, we will continue striving to gain more MICE guests, as well as a wide variety of individual travellers, who seek accommodation for the purpose of both business and leisure in Kyoto, the ancient capital city of Japan. The competition will have to work very hard to reach the high benchmark that we set each year, and we will stay focused on our exquisite excellence of providing the best accommodation to satisfy our repeat clients, as well as our new guests,” added Harada.

Other notable hotel openings slated for 2019 include the launch of Hotel JAL City Tokyo Toyosu by Okura Nikko Hotel Management. Located in Tokyo’s Toyosu district, the hotel will occupy the upper level of ‘D Tower Toyosu’, a hybrid facility incorporating an athlete training centre.

CEO, Okura Nikko Hotel Management, Marcel P. van Aelst commented: “Tokyo is attracting more and more attention from overseas visitors as we head towards 2020. We are pleased to be opening a new hotel in Toyosu, the location of Tokyo’s world-famous former Tsukiji Fish Market, and the site of Olympic and Paralympic venues.”

Japan-based AGORA Hospitalities is gearing up for the opening of the newly branded AGORA KANAZAWA hotel in winter this year, and on an international level, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is due to open its first onsen resort this year, with the unveiling of ANA InterContinental Beppu Resort & Spa. Located in Oita, the hotel will become the first international luxury branded property in the city, and is predicted to target high-end business and leisure travellers.

CEO, IHG ANA, Hans Heijligers commented: “We are delighted to be launching in Beppu, a scenic area of natural beauty, blessed with rich cuisine and fine hot springs. As InterContinental’s first onsen resort, ANA InterContinental Beppu Resort & Spa will be a globally unique luxury resort and I am confident it will be a highly sought-after destination for both domestic and international travellers.”


The tourism sector is set to become one of the key industries in Japan in the coming years, but to achieve the set growth targets and maintain its appeal, the country must emphasise the diversity of its tourism offerings, moving beyond the world-famous sights and attractions, and towards a broadened proposal, incorporating lesser known charms such as the beaches, scuba diving, skiing and fascinating subcultures.

In response to this call for diversification, in April this year, Sunshine City Prince Hotel in Tokyo is set to open a new floor taking Japanese subculture as its theme. This concept floor will be designed to motivate trips to Japan by overseas fans of Japanese anime, manga and other elements of Japanese subculture.

And promoting a more multifaceted Japan will subsequently help to broaden the incoming feeder market horizon, attracting more travellers from outside the region. JNTO’s 2018 ‘Enjoy my Japan’ global campaign was designed to appeal to travellers from North America, Europe and Australia, using off-the-beaten-track images of Japan in the hopes of steering new travellers away from the ‘golden triangle’ of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

Japan’s national carrier, All Nippon Airways (ANA), is also furthering this goal, with new international routes being launched this year, as the airline continues seeking to better serve consumers worldwide. ANA is due to begin offering direct services between Tokyo and Perth in Australia this September, from Narita International Airport. The announcement of this new route comes as the airline prepares to extend services to Vienna, Austria, in February.

Hot on the heels of its best year ever in terms of inbound tourism arrivals, Japan is placing its travel sector as a frontrunner for further economic growth. And in a bid to meet its goals, the destination is focusing on diversity as a key component to its evolving tourism strategy.