JAPAN'S appeal as a tourist destination will receive a boost when a high-speed rail service from Tokyo to Kanazawa begins in spring 2015, and a new policy exempting overseas visitors from the eight per cent consumption tax on all items at tax-free shops kicks in October.
The Hokuriku Shinkansen is expected to create a new tourism route from Tokyo to Western Honshu, connecting Kanazawa in two-and-a-half hours, shaving off 80 minutes from the current duration.
Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) president, Ryoichi Matsuyama, said: “It will be much easier access to Kanazawa, and we hope that visitors will discover attractions and regions beyond Tokyo and Kyoto.”
East Japan Railway Company (JR East) chairman, Satoshi Seino, added that it is likely that Hokuriku would be included in the popular JR pass.
Meanwhile, the waiving of consumption tax on tourists is an expansion of the current policy, which previously did not cover consumable goods such as food and beverages. There are about 4,000 tax-free shops across Japan, with more set to open.
An action plan is being developed to meet the country’s target of 20 million visitors by 2020, the year that Tokyo will host the Olympic games, said JNTO’s Matsuyama. Initiatives include liberalising the visa regime for nationals from more countries, inviting hotel investors to build high-end properties in Tokyo and its surroundings, and expanding flight capacity at Narita and Haneda airports.
Last year, Japan welcomed over 10 million visitors for the first time, achieving growth of 24 per cent (TTG Asia e-Daily, March 31, 2014).
Matsuyama said that hotel capacity is currently an issue in Tokyo, where the average occupancy rate hovers around 93 per cent. The government is studying what financial incentives would be effective for investors, he revealed.
As for visa facilitation, Matsuyama said announcements would be made “quite soon” on additional countries that would be granted visa exemptions.
“Historically, we liberalise visas for two countries each year. But last year, we liberalised five countries,” he added. Malaysia and Thailand were among the five countries last year, and both made it to the top five growth markets for Japan.
Earlier this month, news agency Kyodo reported that the Japanese government and the ruling coalition are planning to waive visa requirements for tourists from the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.