Japan agencies band together to launch responsible tourism alliance

(From left) Discover Walks' Junji Kametsu, Tabikyo Japan's Kei Tamura, Tabisuke's Raisuke Nishiya, Spirit of Japan Travel's Masaru Takayama, Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau's Noriko Tada, Cerca Travel's Yukiko Inoue, and Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau's Masanori Ogawa

Seven like-minded travel firms have united as the founding members of the Japan Alliance of Responsible Travel Agencies (JARTA), which aims to promote sustainable tourism that contributes to local communities.

Announcing the launch of the initiative in Kyoto on June 28, Masaru Takayama, president of Kyoto-based Spirit of Japan Travel, said it is unusual for travel agencies in Japan to come together as most prefer to work independent of each other.

(From left) Discover Walks’ Junji Kametsu, Tabikyo Japan’s Kei Tamura, Tabisuke’s Raisuke Nishiya, Spirit of Japan Travel’s Masaru Takayama, Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau’s Noriko Tada, Cerca Travel’s Yukiko Inoue, and Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau’s Masanori Ogawa

“The aim of JARTA is to create tours and sell destinations that are off Japan’s traditional ‘Golden Route’ but, at the same time, benefit local areas and their residents in a more comprehensive way,” he told TTG Asia.

Further underlining the importance of facilitating access to lesser travelled parts of the country, Takayama said that more than 30 million foreign travellers are expected to visit Japan this year and a number of cities – notably Tokyo and Kyoto – are already experiencing “overtourism”.

Takayama added that responsible tourism is growing at 30 per cent per annum, and there is an increasing number of repeat visitors to Japan seeking new experiences and destinations. “These demand trends can have a ripple effect on local communities,” he said.

“We want to make a difference by selling the right kind of travel packages featuring local destinations to responsible travellers in a way that also helps people living and working in those regions.”

The founding members of the organisation include Spirit of Japan Travel, Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel, Tabisuke, Discover Kyushu Walks, Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau, Reborn Japan in Saitama Prefecture and Tabikyo Japan.

“We have been trying to provide an alternative view of Japan for the past five years, particularly of spiritual places, in order to give visitors a better understanding of the authentic Japan,” said Kei Tamura, director of Tabikyo Japan.

Raisuke Nishiya, founder of Tohoku-based Tabisuke, added: “It will be good for foreign tourists to see other parts of Japan that are off the ‘Golden Route’, and I think the potential for the organisation and this sector is huge.”

To allow members to share information and provide more agents with the opportunity to become responsible travel companies, JARTA will create an online platform, designed to serve as a “one-stop window for local travel agencies diverse in geography and specialities”, Takayama said.

JARTA will also hold exchange, networking and cross-learning events to improve the operations and management of sustainable and responsible tourism, as well as run study sessions to look at criteria set by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

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