June 3, 2020

Japan’s Tourism Industry is Taking Its First Steps Towards Recovery

Getting past the current situation is not the most important thing for the tourism industry today. It will take at least a year and a half to establish a vaccine or treatment method for the novel coronavirus. From now on, demand will gradually return through repeated phases of restraint and relaxation. That makes it important to make plans that look forward, through the next year and a half.

The value of domestic travel consumption by Japanese people is around JPY22 trillion. Within that, there is JPY17.1 trillion for travel with overnight stays, and JPY4.8 trillion for day trips. The inbound market is worth JPY4.8 trillion. Overseas travel from Japan, counting only the value spent in Japan, is worth JPY1.2 trillion, and the money spent overseas on things like tourism and restaurants is estimated to be two or three times higher. Consumption that has no outlet in overseas travel could return to domestic travel. The next 18 months will provide the first signals of recovery, as the industry considers how to generate that demand.

Sources: Japan Tourism Agency

To achieve that, it will be important for people to avoid the “three Cs (closed spaces, crowded places, close-contact settings) and give customers the message of safety and peace of mind. Due to the coronavirus, we are already seeing a clear change in the purposes of travel. In place of conventional aims like “we want to see pretty scenery” and “we want to enjoy activities”, release from the feelings of stress and fear brought on by self-imposed controls is becoming an important theme.

Another task is to attract young people. The baby boom generation supports the domestic tourism market today, but by 2025, all its members will be in late old age, and the numbers who travel will dwindle. The key is to find a way to bring in young people in their 20s and 30s, who have already been drifting away from travel. That effort requires tourism businesses to take the initiative in devising measures, in cooperation with local governments and other parties.

The scenario for future recovery in Japanese tourism goes through the following steps:
1) “Micro tourism” trips to nearby places
“Micro tourism” means travel in the local area or nearby areas. The range is 30 minutes to 1 hour by car.
2) Trips from metropolitan areas by Shinkansen or flight
3) Inbound travel (foreign visitors to Japan)

Towards the goal of 60 million inbound travelers
The Japanese government has set a target of “60 million travelers to Japan by 2030”. The triggers for that growth are the Tokyo Olympics and the 2025 Osaka Expo. Effort to increase repeaters among inbound travelers are essential. But it is difficult to get people to come from overseas to the same place twice. Therefore, it is essential to attract people to tourist destinations outside the big cities. Each tourist area must take the novel coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to rediscover its own appeal and build on its strengths.

Tourism destinations around the world are already locked in competition as they look forward to post-coronavirus business, and Japan is a late starter. The vacation rental agency Airbnb started offering online experience programs in April. It offers a lineup of over 50 programs such as “Cook with a Moroccan family” and “Meet the dogs of Chernobyl”, which are offered by hosts around the world.


The tourist bureaus of many countries have started broadcasting videos that give viewers travel experiences from home. Early movers include Hawaii, New York, and Germany. Hawaii offers VR (Virtual Reality) experiences such as air tours by helicopter and horse riding across prairie. Germany posted 3D images of “the world’s most beautiful milk shop” in Dresden on Twitter. A virtual tour of the Faeroe Islands, a self‐governing dominion of Denmark in the North Atlantic, happens in real time, and participants can tell the guide which way they want to go. It started on April 15th, and over 20,000 people have already participated.


Will Japan really be able to get chosen as a destination? That will require ideas and hard work.