The proliferation of LCCs and increased frequency of air and sea routes are driving rapid growth in Okinawa, Japan’s southern-most archipelago.
Direct flights are in operation from countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. According to Yasushi Nakamura, vice-president of Okinawa Tourist Service, the main airport in Naha now receives more than 200 direct international flights per week, compared to 40-50 five years ago.
Port calls in Okinawa in 2017 were up 33 per cent year-on-year, according to the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau (OCVB). More than 500 cruise ships docked on the island chain, most of which hailed from Taiwan and China.
The result has been an unprecedented number of visitors: nearly 2.7 million fiscal 2017, representing a 26.4 per cent increase year-on-year, according to OCVB.
Kazuhiko Yoshioka, manager of the Okinawa inbound and MICE department of Nippon Travel Agency, attributes the archipelago’s popularity to its proximity to other Asian nations and Japan’s relaxation of visa requirements.
As well, some experts are observing that the Instagram-worthy beaches and sea have attracted the younger market.
Yasutomo Morikawa, spokesperson for the Kinki Nippon Tourist Group, agreed that Okinawa’s positioning as a resort destination has fuelled its growth. He predicts the firm’s April to June 2018 Okinawa sales will be up 30 per cent over the same period last year.
Meanwhile Ryubo Travel Service reported a 113 per cent increase in sales over the January to May 2018 period, most of which was derived from Taiwanese visitors.
The hotel market has responded with a spurt of openings, including new glamping resorts Island Magic Senagajima and Kariyushi Beach Glamping. DoubleTree by Hilton Okinawa Chatan Resort launched in June and The Luxury Collection Hotel’s Iraph Sui will open in late 2018. The Hilton Okinawa Sesoko Resort is slated for 2020.
Further growth in Okinawa is expected due to the addition of more flights and another airport this year. By fiscal 2021, the government aims to attract 12 million visitors annually.