In Japan tourism has tended to be viewed as simply a matter of sightseeing. For this reason, tourism has received markedly less priority compared to other areas of industrial activity in terms of improving the industry environment, including the policies and systems for and attitudes toward tourism development.
Now, however, tourism is expected to become a growth industry in the twenty-first century. This view is attributable in part to a change in public attitudes in recent years, with an increasing emphasis on leisure and the enjoyment of life. In addition, tourism will also contribute to regional development and international understanding.
Tourism is important because interacting with others and participating in various activities foster a sense of self-fulfillment and solidarity. This results in the formation of healthy communities in the broadest of senses. Tourism also allows people to get away from everyday life and put themselves into different worlds. From there they can take a fresh look at their own lives and the histories and cultures of their countries, and they can question the existing state of their nations and societies from different perspectives. Accordingly, we need to recognize anew the significance of tourism and develop an environment in which tourism can be promoted in Japan.
Tourism is a wide-ranging industry. The economic spin-off benefits from tourism include production valued at approximately ¥ 48 trillion and about 4.1 million jobs. It is a composite sector that encompasses a variety of activities in addition to travel and accommodations. The expansion of an aged population with ample time and economic resources is expected to turn tourism into a growth industry in the twenty-first century.
Tourism plays a central role in community and regional revitalization. Regions are revitalized through the interaction that occurs in the course of presenting their unique features to visitors, and this in turn can be expected to provide residents with an incentive to develop pleasant communities and regions that they can be proud of.
Tourism has the potential to build social stability. For example, when family members travel together, the improved mutual understanding that results from this shared experience leads to better communication within the family. Moreover, visits to rural communities can contribute to the emotional education of children by providing them with opportunities to consider the meaning of life from a new perspective as they interact with nature while helping with farm work.
Tourism is a passport for peace. It encourages interaction among people of different nations and helps to sweep away ignorance and distrust through increased understanding of the social structures, cultures, languages, and customs of different countries. Through this process, it is possible to nip conflict and confrontation in the bud. Tourism has a crucial role to play as a medium for the promotion of peace diplomacy and as a means of promoting "internal internationalization" in Japan.
All groups involved in tourism, including central and regional governments, should work toward the goal of universal tourism (tourism as an activity that everyone can enjoy) by developing truly barrier-free communities. This will require various improvements, such as the provision of more escalators and elevators and the increased use of pictorial signs, to make the environment more easily negotiable for the aged and the physically disabled. It will also be necessary to develop travel products for the aged and to offer wide-ranging options to suit the interests and capabilities of aged people.
When promoting tourism, it is vital that we avoid hasty destruction of the natural environment and the creation of commercially oriented resorts, and that we focus instead on the preservation of the natural environment and historical heritages. This is what is meant by sustainable tourism. The first step is to foster regional development through the creation of comfortable communities that residents can take pride in.
One aspect of sustainable tourism is "green" tourism (tourism based on experiencing nature or trying out agriculture, forestry, or fisheries). This can make an important contribution in areas ranging from the promotion of human interaction between urban dwellers and people in rural and fishing communities to the revitalization of mountain villages. However, the unlicensed provision of accommodations for large numbers of unspecified guests is a breach of the Hotel Business Act in Japan, so it would be necessary to run such schemes on a membership basis. While doing everything possible to conserve scenic areas and other resources, we also need to review all the regulations that affect green tourism.
It is also important to foster environmental awareness. One approach would be to create a system of official recognition for hotels and inns that minimize the burden on the environment, such as through the efficient use of soap, shampoo, and other items, or through the reuse of towels for guests who stay for several nights (provided that there are no hygiene problems). Such hotels and inns could be publicly designated "model establishments." This would also provide a major incentive for operators to improve their management efficiency.
Developing Basic Infrastructure
Japan's airports, including Narita Airport, are still inadequate in terms of the "software" aspects of their infrastructure, such as foreign language signage and information panels. Urgent steps should be taken to provide signs and other facilities that meet the needs of foreign tourists in tourist-related facilities, such as airports, seaports, and railway stations.
Another priority is the provision of the information sought by foreign tourists. This could be achieved through the creation of portal Websites to provide integrated and comprehensive information in foreign languages about travel costs, access routes, local tourist resources, and the services and charges of hotels and inns throughout Japan. In addition, hotels and inns should improve their reception systems and establish interpretation and guidance services.
The formalities required to obtain a tourist visa for Japan should be made simpler and more transparent, and efforts should be made to improve the way in which tourists are welcomed to Japan, including the provision of hospitality. The ban on tourist visas for group travel from China to Japan was lifted in September 2000, and now there should be a phased easing of the restrictions, taking into account such factors as Chinese demand for tourist travel to Japan.
Reducing the Cost of Tourism
To attract tourists to Japan, it will be necessary to offer internationally competitive travel products. To achieve this, tourism-related industries should work together to bring down costs and raise the quality of services. For instance, the range of accommodations and travel options should be expanded to include low-cost travel products. An example of a low-cost accommodation product that people can use even when traveling alone is the bed-and-breakfast establishment, which is common in Britain.
Official costs, such as usage charges at Narita, Kansai, and other Japanese airports, the aviation fuel tax, and fixed asset tax, are conspicuously higher in Japan than at airports in other countries. As part of its efforts to attract tourists to Japan, the government should reduce the cost burden on airport users.
Promoting Industrial Tourism, etc.
Some areas of Japan, such as the Chubu region, have industrial heritage with considerable cultural value as evidence of the history of industrial development in Japan, and there have been calls for the use of this heritage for tourist activities, such as visits to old industrial facilities and factory structures. Efforts should be made to attract tourists, especially from Asia, through international campaigns that focus on this heritage, as well as by arranging technical visits to companies and factories with high-tech facilities. The target market would include foreign businesspeople and trainees.
Strengthening Systems for Reception and Distribution of Tourism-Related Information
A priority in terms of improving the tourism information infrastructure is the timely distribution of information about key tourist resources via video screens or Internet terminals in airports, railway stations, and other locations where tourist information is exchanged in Japan and overseas. To promote travel to Japan, tourism-related programs and other material should be produced for broadcast in overseas countries. Another effective approach would be an image enhancement strategy based on credit card holder magazines, women_s magazines, and other publications targeted toward young women, who are a major market for travel.
Developing Wide-Area, Multi-Agency Cooperation Systems
At present, tourism administration in Japan is split between multiple government agencies. This vertically divided structure has been blamed for the lack of consistency in government policy. When the new Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport is established in January 2001, the Tourism Department of the new ministry's Policy Bureau should be given enhanced coordination functions so that tourism policies can be developed laterally across the various ministries. Also, consideration should be given to the appointment of a special tourism advisor reporting directly to the prime minister.
Another important task is the creation of wide-area coordination organizations in each region. Traditional administrative areas should not bind these organizations. Their task should be to enhance the overall attractiveness of their regions through the organic linking of tourism resources.
Integrated cooperation among industry, universities, research institutes, government departments, and other organizations is essential to the promotion of tourism in Japan. Such institutions as universities are responsible for the development of human resources capable of contributing to the future development of tourism in Japan. They should train people with an understanding of the essential characteristics and ideals of tourism, including tourism marketing and management. Meanwhile, industry and government should encourage greater participation by nonprofit organizations and similar groups engaged in community development. Efforts should also be made to strengthen cooperation and coordination based on clearly defined roles for central and regional governments and tourism-related organizations.
Creating a Social Environment Conducive to Leisure
As part of the efforts to create an environment that better facilitates travel, the government should promote consecutive holidays through such means as the extension of "Happy Monday" systems. Article 8 of the revised ILO Holidays with Pay Convention states that where annual leave is divided into parts, "one of the parts shall consist of at least two uninterrupted working weeks." In Japan the average length of paid leave provided is 17.5 days, but the average number of days actually taken is only 9.1 days, or just 51.8% of the total allowed. As we enter the twenty-first century, we need to move away from lifestyles devoted entirely to work and to create a social environment in which leisure time is more readily available. Consideration should be given to the legal system and the ways in which businesses grant leave. Businesses will need to encourage employees to use their annual leave, from the viewpoint of helping them to work more energetically and creatively. Businesses will also need to work toward the creation of corporate environments in which employees can take prolonged leave.
Now that we are able to benefit from material prosperity, we need to abandon our traditional attitude of putting the economy above all else. We need to step out of our workplaces and enjoy nature and culture with our family and friends. We need to regain our emotional wealth and spiritual prosperity.
Tourism provides us with opportunities to look at our land, our history, our culture, and our way of life from new perspectives and to build a nation that is truly rich and filled with creative energy. If this "faceless" Japan is to gain the trust and understanding of the international community, we must first look inward and learn to understand ourselves.
Central and local governments, the business sector, and individual Japanese need to renew their awareness of the importance of tourism and to widely share this awareness. We hope that tourism will become the starting point for a new approach to regional development in Japan, and that it will lead to a new phase of national revitalization based on the emergence of diverse and genuinely affluent regional communities and on contact between regions and nations.