Shinjuku area in Tokyo Japan

JTB Corporation is expecting Japan to enjoy a bumper year for inbound tourism following the recovery of key markets in late 2022 and the anticipated return of visitors from China in summer.

Some 21.1 million foreign tourists are expected in 2023, a 551 per cent year-on-year increase, according to its latest travel trend forecast.

Shinjuku area in Tokyo Japan
Japan is anticipating 21.1 million foreign tourists this year; Shinjuku in Tokyo pictured

The figure is based on inbound recovery since border restrictions were eased on October 11, 2022 to allow visa-free, independent travel. In October, Japan welcomed 498,600 foreign visitors (up from 206,641 in September), which was followed by 934,500 arrivals in November and 1.37 arrivals million in December.

The largest rebound markets in 2022 were Asian, particularly Vietnam (with a 57 per cent increase in visitors on 2019 figures), followed by South Korea (18 per cent) and Thailand (15 per cent), but the US is also showing growth (19 per cent), prompting JTB to predict similar patterns in 2023.

Arrivals from China, meanwhile, are expected “to return in earnest from July and show the same pattern of rapid recovery as other markets so far”, said the forecast.

Still, 21.1 million visitors is only 66 per cent of the record 31.88 million tourists who came to Japan in 2019, demonstrating that Japan has some way to go to achieve its target of 60 million tourists annually by 2030.

In domestic travel, JTB predicts 266 million Japanese residents will make a trip in 2023, up nine per cent year-on-year, yet only 91 per cent of the number that travelled in the country in 2019.

The report noted that Japanese consumers had refrained from travel in 2022, largely due to personal concerns about Covid-19 or requests by local governments to curb movement in the face of local infection spikes.

Overnight stays in 2022 recovered only following the end of public appeals to contain virus spread and the implementation of a domestic travel campaign, so consumers, particularly older ones, are expected to take more time to resume travelling as they did in 2019.

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