July 21, 2024

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‘Instagram culture’ and weak yen help push tourism to Japan’s second-largest export

2 min read

Over 14.6 million international visitors went to Japan between January and May, according to data from the Japan National Tourism Organization. Almost 3.1 million went to the country in March alone, the highest monthly total since records began in 1964. 

If that trend continues, Japan is set to exceed its record of 31.9 million tourists in 2019, just before the COVID pandemic. 

Total inbound tourism spending rose to 1.75 trillion yen ($10.8 billion) in the first quarter of the year. That made tourism Japan’s second-largest “export”, just behind cars and ahead of products like semiconductors, according to Fortune’s calculations and data from Oxford Economics.

It’s the first time since the final quarter of 2019 that tourism spending is in second place, notes Oxford Economics’ senior Japan economist Norihiro Yamaguchi. Inbound travel almost vanished during the pandemic, but recovered quickly after Japan started lowering its COVID controls in September 2022. Japan lifted all restrictions in April 2023.

Tourists in Japan now have a lot of spending power, as the yen hits record lows against the U.S. dollar. That’s making hotels, sightseeing and family meals cheaper for foreign visitors than they would have been before the pandemic.

But Jeremy Bek, the global head for Japanese travel platform Rakuten Travel, thinks the surge in Japanese travel is about more than just a weak currency.

Visitors now want unique social media-ready experiences rather than just food and shopping. “It’s the Instagram culture, right?” Bek says. “It’s not about what you eat or what you do. It’s about what people see you eat and do. And Japan is beautiful. There’s so many beautiful things to put on Instagram.”

How is a weak yen helping tourism?

The yen, long a safe haven for investors during times of crisis, has declined against the dollar. A year ago, one U.S. dollar was worth 140 yen; it’s worth around 161 yen now.

The U.S….

Lionel Lim

2024-07-10 22:59:05

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