Japan tourism recovery remains strong yet uneven

‌Rapid growth in international arrivals this year has strengthened Japan’s tourism rebound, but not all parts of the country are seeing equal recovery.

Japan welcomed 1.9 million visitors in May, equating to 68.5 per cent of the number in May 2019, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Japan hopes to attract more visitors in summer to places like Sado Island, pictured

Destinations that were popular pre-pandemic are showing a faster rebound than others, particularly Tokyo, which hosted three million international overnight visitors in March, a 20 per cent increase on March 2019. The prefectures of Kyoto and Ishikawa (home to Kanazawa also known as “little Kyoto”) have also rebounded strongly, reporting visitor numbers at 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Niigata Prefecture, meanwhile, welcomed only 70 per cent of the number of visitors it did pre-pandemic, prompting the local government to launch a new promotion of the famous snow sports area as a year-round destination.

“We would like to attract more visitors in summer to places like Sado Island and bring the number of foreign tourists to the pre-Covid level,” said a prefectural government representative.

Officials have attributed each region’s degree of rebound to ease of access and availability of travel and destination information.

International arrivals at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport reached 98 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in May, while local airports have an average international arrival recovery rate of 16 per cent, largely due to the slower resumption of international flights, according to aviation intelligence company OAG.

Still, regions that welcome chartered flights, such as Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku and Toyama Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, which both resumed chartered flights from Taiwan in the spring, are showing a faster recovery, albeit also thanks to innovative campaigns such as Toyama’s tie-up with Airnnb to offer a free stay in one of the prefecture’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed villages.

Tochigi Prefecture is also enjoying a strong rebound, according to a prefectural government representative who attributed proximity to Tokyo as a key factor.

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