Summer travel biz shows signs of recovery

July 12th, 2013 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

So close, and so far away

So close, and so far away

According to statistics released by Japan Travel Bureau on July 3, overseas travel this summer is projected to be up by 5.8 percent from last year, though continued sour relations with China and South Korea have seen fewer Japanese travelers this year to those two destinations. Another important consideration that doesn’t seem to have had a bad effect is the higher value of the dollar and other currencies against the yen. In terms of numbers, 2.6 million have reservations to travel overseas between July 15 and Aug. 31. The main bright spot is Europe, which will see a 15 percent boost in Japanese visitors as opposed to 2012. Also, Southeast Asia seems to be maintaining its popularity as a vacation spot. The average amount of money being spent per person on foreign travel this summer is ¥243,000, which is ¥11,800 more than was spent in 2012.

In addition, 76.2 million people have domestic travel plans this summer that involve more than one night away from home, which is the highest number since 2000. Even better, the average amount of money spent per person for these trips is ¥35,010, or ¥1,280 more than last summer. Several circumstances are credited with pushing up these numbers: the 30th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Resort; renovations to Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture and Izumo Shrine in Shimane Prefecture; and Mount Fuji’s recent listing as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and the intense media coverage that preceded it.

Since the main point of the Cultural Heritage designation is preservation, the media have been careful about reporting on the enormous economic potential, though NHK couldn’t help but interview innkeepers and restaurant owners around Mount Fuji after the designation was confirmed. Tokyo Shimbun reported that sales of mountain-climbing equipment and clothing surged 19 percent in May compared to last year.

Though the UNESCO designation hadn’t been made yet, coverage of the impending decision was pretty heavy at the time. Mainichi quotes a Shizuoka Prefecture-based research group that says it can’t estimate the economic benefits of the designation to the prefecture precisely, but “undoubtedly” it will be a boon for hotels, souvenir stores, public transportation, the convention business and development of merchandise with local brand recognition. In terms of precedent, the Shiragami mountain rage between Aomori and Akita prefectures was designed a World Natural Heritage site in 1993. Previously, the number of people who hiked the range was about 120,000 per year, and by 2006 it had increased to 880,000. The Iwami Silver Mine in Shimane Prefecture was designated as a Cutlural Heritage site in 2007. The next year, visitor numbers doubled to 800,000.

Obviously, UNESCO recognition is a guaranteed financial boost, though it can also put a huge strain on the environment. It’s likely that more restrictions will have to put in place for Fuji climbers because the path up the mountain has already turned into the Yamanote Line at rush hour. Shiragami has serious refuse problems, and the area around the Iwami mine is plagued by traffic jams and over-extended public transport. Such considerations were central to Kamakura’s decision to withdraw its candidacy for World Heritage approval. A preliminary team from UNESCO found that the historical city in Kanagawa Prefecture was not a good candidate. Kamakura already receives about 18 million visitors a year.

Many local merchants expressed disappointment, but residents were relieved. Roadways and public transporation are stretched to the limit, especially on weekends. Besides, all the traffic doesn’t necessarily translate into more money. The local government estimates that the average visitor to Kamakura spends about ¥3,000, not counting transportation, and the majority don’t spend the night since they mainly come for day excursions. Moreover, though Kamakura is very popular among non-Japanese as a place to live, a very small percentage of visitors are from overseas. According to the website Trip Advisor Kamakura ranks 27th among places in Japan that foreign tourists say they want to visit.

[Read more about Fuji fever merchandise at our sister blog, Japan Pulse.]

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