In a promising sign of progress, the number of visitors to Japan in the first half of this year has surpassed 60% of pre-pandemic levels, signaling a gradual return to the nation’s status as a tourism-oriented country. This news comes as a relief to the industry, which has faced unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s not all smooth sailing for Japan’s tourism revival, as the country grapples with labor shortages in the hotel industry and some concerning issues at popular tourist destinations.
The president and CEO of All Nippon Airways, Shinichi Inoue, expressed optimism about the recovery of international flight demand. As one of Japan’s leading airlines, All Nippon Airways is expecting the number of international flights to reach approximately 70% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this month.
Last week, Tokyo International Airport at Haneda took a significant step towards normalcy by reopening its international flight facility at Terminal 2, which had been closed for nearly three years due to the pandemic. This move is expected to further boost tourism-related consumption in the country.
Tourism-related spending has seen a significant boost, partly thanks to a weaker yen. Duty-free goods sales have soared, with average customer spending doubling that of pre-pandemic levels, according to a department store official. Luxury products are in high demand, with tourists enthusiastically making purchases.
However, amid the surge in tourists, the hotel industry faces a unique set of challenges. Many hotels and traditional Japanese ryokan inns had to lay off employees during the height of the pandemic. Now, with a sharp increase in guests, these establishments are struggling to secure enough workers to accommodate the demand. Some hotels have even reduced room availability, indicating the severity of the labor shortage.
The influx of tourists has also led to issues at popular tourist destinations. Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain, is expected to witness an unprecedented number of visitors during this year’s climbing season. Concerns have been raised about the safety of “bullet climbing,” where people hurry to the peak through the night, especially by those who were unable to book mountain huts. Local municipalities and concerned parties have asked Yamanashi Prefecture to restrict the number of climbers to prevent accidents and health-related incidents.
In Kyoto’s Arashiyama area, residents are troubled by the vast amount of litter left behind by tourists who eat while walking around. Despite some voluntary efforts by local stores to clean up, the issue persists. The head of a local shop association has urged the city government to take action, highlighting the severity of the problem.
Moreover, the increasing number of tourists has put a strain on Kyoto’s local transportation network, leading to long lines of tourists at bus stops. This has caused frustration among local residents who rely on the bus for their daily commute. Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa has suggested separating the use of transportation for locals and tourists, but finding a viable solution remains a challenge.
The central government is exploring options to ease congestion by encouraging travel to other areas of the country or shifting travel to weekdays. However, it is evident that further action and planning will be required to manage the ongoing tourism surge effectively.
Japan’s tourism industry is making a remarkable recovery after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The return of international flights and robust tourism-related spending are positive indicators. Nevertheless, challenges like labor shortages in the hotel industry and issues at tourist destinations demand immediate attention and strategic solutions. Sustainable and responsible tourism management will be essential to ensure Japan’s long-term success as a preferred travel destination.