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Economy

Asian tourists push Japan visitor spending tally to record $40bn

Figures for 2017 also hint at a need to adapt to travelers' changing habits

Tourists check out Tokyo's Asakusa district. (Photo by Maho Obata)

TOKYO -- International visitors to Japan spent a record 4.41 trillion yen ($39.87 billion) in 2017, with tourists from the rest of Asia driving much of the growth, fresh statistics show.

Overall tourist spending increased 17.8% from 2016, crossing the 4 trillion yen mark for the first time, according to preliminary data released by the Japan Tourism Agency on Tuesday. The number of travelers also grew 19.3% on the year to a new high of 28.69 million.

Travelers from six countries of origin increased more than 20% -- five of which were in Asia. In particular, the number of South Korean visitors surged by 40.3% on the year. The figures for Indonesia and Vietnam jumped by more than 30%, while that for the Philippines rose by 21.9%.

"Airlines have added flights and introduced larger aircraft on flights connecting Vietnam and the Philippines to Japan, which led to an increase in travelers choosing Japan as their holiday destination," Akihiko Tamura, commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency, told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday.

While tourist arrivals and overall spending are showing healthy growth, per capita spending by travelers decreased 1.3% on the year to 153,921 yen -- the second straight annual decline. 

A big reason is that visitors are taking shorter trips: The average number of nights spent in Japan last year was 9.1, compared with 10.1 in 2016. Tamura pointed to the huge increase in travelers from South Korea, who tend not to stay long because of the two countries' proximity.

South Koreans spent an average of 4.3 nights in Japan -- far shorter than the average across all nationalities.

Travelers are also allocating less money to shopping and more to activities and entertainment, according to the agency's report. Shopping made up 37.1% of overall tourist spending in 2017, down from 38.1% in 2016. In contrast, entertainment and services made up 3.3%, inching up from 3% a year earlier.

Japan's government aims to increase annual tourist arrivals to 40 million by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics. It wants to double tourist spending by then, to 8 trillion yen.

To hit these targets, Tamura stressed the need to offer a wider array of entertainment and activities. This includes enhancing nightlife in cities and extending the opening hours of museums and galleries to attract more visitors.

"Travelers' habits are changing," he said. "Our tourism industry needs to transform to adapt to these changes."

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