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Japan to tourists: Get off the 'Golden Route'

Marketing campaigns touting rural Japan to be tailored to each country

Tourists take in what Japanese call "unkai," a sea of clouds, from the top of a Hokkaido mountain. (Hoshino Resort Tomamu)

TOKYO -- In an attempt to lure more foreign tourists to rural areas, Japan's government will start trumpeting its countryside charms in its marketing campaigns in 20 countries and regions.

The countries and regions include China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and India. The U.S. and some European countries are also marketed to.

Japan has been experiencing a tourism boom. Last year, it welcomed 24 million visitors, an increase of 22%. Of the total, over 20 million came from Asia, led by tourists from South Korea, China and Taiwan.

The government aims to lift tourist arrivals to 40 million by 2020 -- and get some of them to venture off the so-called "Golden Route."

Most of the country's foreign tourist attractions are located along this route. The well-trodden path starts in Tokyo, passes by Mount Fuji and then heads down to the Kansai region, where Kyoto is.

Most foreign tourists stay overnight in Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, choosing only to pass through rural areas.

"It is indispensable that Japanese tourism implements measures to lure tourists off the Golden Route," said Akihiko Tamura, the Commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency.

As far as marketing goes, a team will be established to study country-by-country search data to determine what tourists expect to do in Japan.

The government already has an idea in this regard. For instance, trekking, mountaineering and onsen hot-springing are particularly popular among German tourists. So this summer, a marketing campaign will hit Germany touting Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, the southern island of Kyushu and other off-the-beaten-path areas.

The government will also start developing travel packages for wealthy Germans.

Reeling in more tourists from the U.S. and Europe is another challenge.

For the first time, the government will set specific goals for the number of annual visitors that come from certain countries and regions. By the end of this year, the Japan National Tourism Organization is to set these goals for the year  2020 and 2030.

The global race to lure foreign tourists is intensifying, and Tamura said it is especially heated when it comes to winning over Chinese tourists.

In the game to draw Chinese tourists, Japan will wield word of mouth. It will go to bloggers who have big followings in China and encourage them to write about the adventures that await in the Japanese countryside.

In addition, the government will begin trying to increase the number of budget flights between China and Japan this summer.

The government will also market theme-based tourism. In October, it will begin exempting foreign tourists from paying liquor and consumption taxes when they buy sake after touring a brewery. The exemptions will be available at about 3,000 sake breweries across Japan.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan in 2016 rose 22%, and annual increases of around 20% are needed if the government is to reach its 2020 goal of 40 million.  

For the government to fulfill its 2030 target of 60 million visitors, it needs to offer potential tourists more experiences than what they can find in Tokyo and Kyoto.


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