An increase in air links is boosting arrivals to Okinawa, with the southernmost island chain in Japan looking at continued growth next year with the opening of a third international airport.
Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau’s overseas team producer Shinji Murakami, in Madrid on a tour of European cities, said arrivals are expected to increase from 2.07 million in 2016 to 2.6 million this year.
While most of the visitors are from neighbouring countries in north-east Asia – led by Taiwan, and followed in descending order by South Korea, Hong Kong and China – Murakami said the destination has sights on other feeder markets.
Murakami said the CVB hopes to leverage the archipelago’s reputation as the home of karate to attract more non-Asians, in addition to its main sales pitch on natural marine beauty and being “sub-tropical Japan”,
”We are now looking for more people from Europe, a market that is about 20 per cent of the total,” he said.
“Instead of them visiting Japan, then adding on a beach holiday in, say, the Maldives, we are encouraging them come to Okinawa. We are already getting more requests from European operators.”
The main Asian source markets also serve as effective transit points in bringing Europeans to Okinawa, with Hong Kong two and a half hours away, Shanghai two hours and now with a thrice-weekly service launched from Singapore in November.
Work has already started on a third international airport on the middle island of Miyako, which involves the adaptation of an existing aerodrome and is expected to be ready in autumn 2018, he said.
Also, a new runway is being built at the prefecture’s main gateway airport at Naha, which is due to open in 2020.