Japanese Tourism Revs Up For “China Boom”

Tourist Visa Process To Ease Beginning July 1, Leading To Expected Chinese Tourism Explosion

Much to the chagrin of hoteliers, Chinese tourists tend to spend heavily on luxury goods while scrimping on accommodations

Much to the chagrin of hoteliers, Chinese tourists tend to spend heavily on luxury goods while scrimping on accommodations

Japanese tourism officials have made no secret of their desire to see more free-spending Chinese tourists making the short trip to Japan, bringing with them a hunger for high-end shopping. Though the number of Chinese tourists heading to Japan has increased steadily in recent years, visa restrictions have restricted them to group tours, a move that has kept their numbers low in Japan relative to the tens of millions of outbound Chinese traveling elsewhere. However, this is set to change, as the Japanese government recently announced it will ease a ban on individual tourist visas for Chinese effective July 1, a step that officials think should see 150,000 more Chinese tourists arriving per year.

From the Japan Times:

Until now travel visas have been given out only to wealthy Chinese, but starting next month the relaxed rules will allow another 16 million households — 10 times the size of the current pool of potential travelers — to apply for a trip to Japan, the Foreign Ministry said.

The government will reportedly lower the minium annual income level to 60,000 yuan (about ¥800,000) from 250,000 yuan (¥3.34 million), which is nearly 14 times the average income in China’s urban areas. A Foreign Ministry official however declined to disclose the specific level, saying factors other than income will also be considered.

The Japan Tourism Agency aims to more than triple the number of Chinese tourists to 3.9 million in 2013 from 1.01 million last year.

“We will be actively working to increase inbound tourists with a focus on China,” the agency’s commissioner, Hiroshi Mizohata, said during a news conference May 27.

The visa deregulation figures to be a major boon to the tourism industry, considering that Chinese travelers on average spend more in Japan than any other nationality.

According to an estimate by an association of 17 Chinese and Japanese firms, including Japan Airlines Corp., relaxing the visa requirement will have an economic impact of about ¥430 billion in 2012.

This visa deregulation should prove to be something of a win-win for Japan’s tourism industry and individual Chinese tourists. As the article notes, Chinese tourists tend to outspend their counterparts elsewhere — particularly in Asia, where they outspend Japanese tourists 2-to-1 at high-end South Korean malls — and Japanese tour operators and retailers have already made preparations for a “flood” of wealthy Chinese tourists. According to a recent Nikkei Weekly article (“Visa easing lures well-off Chinese”),

From this month, JTB Corp. will let Chinese tourists on optional touris in Japan pay with the China UnionPay cash card, which is issued by Chinese banks.

Sanrio Co.’s popular theme park Sanrio Puroland began accepting the China UnionPay card in May at its major restaurants and character goods stores.

Unlike group travelers, tourists on personal visas are allowed to travel where and when they want. As a result, a rise in online reservations is another possibility. prince Hotels Inc. and Keio Plaza Hotel Co. are thus upgrading their websites to offer more and better Chinese-language information.

All of these moves are clearly a good start, especially as Japan’s stagnant tourism industry could definitely benefit from some new life. However, it’s interesting to keep an eye on this story because there have already been grumbles by some in the Japanese tour industry about the behavior of Chinese tourists — namely, their propensity for scrimping on accommodations, entertainment and food while spending lavishly on appliances and luxury goods. Unfortunately, this is something that these tour operators, hoteliers and restaurateurs will likely have to get used to.