Japan strives to keep foreign tourist boom going

An image of an "omotenashi" certification to be given by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry.
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

The government has launched one policy after another in its efforts to boost the number of visitors from overseas and encourage them to spend more money.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will establish a certification system to evaluate the quality of "omotenashi" - Japanese traditional hospitality - at Japanese-style ryokan inns and restaurants and endorse those deemed foreigner-friendly.

The ministry will test the certification system next summer.

The system likely comprises three criteria, such as whether credit cards are accepted, if the company can handle tax-free procedures and the standard of its foreign-language capabilities.

It is expected to help raise the overall level of service in the related industries.

The ministry plans to form a panel to discuss the system as early as mid-September and start establishing the criteria. The panel participants will include experts, groups and relevant associations, as well as ministry officials who will observe the discussions.

The Japan External Trade Organisation and other entities will help to widely promote the system overseas. Restaurants and shops planning to target foreign visitors are urged to participate. The ministry is also considering asking publishers to include information on the system in popular guidebooks aimed at foreigners.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan from January to July was 11.06 million, an increase of about 50 per cent from a year earlier. The figure exceeded the 10 million mark for the first time and is expected to keep increasing in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Rural manpower

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will launch a project to train guides for foreigners visiting rural areas in order for them to get the best experience out of farming and fishing communities. Trained personnel will eventually be dispatched to those areas for about three years.

The ministry will invite applications from members of the public who are interested in rural farming and fishing and then train them for about six months before stationing them in relevant areas. The ministry would cover the costs associated with their training and job activities and aim to support the promotion of local tourism. The cost for personnel training and activities will be included in the ministry's budget request for fiscal 2016.

In July, the Japan Tourism Agency announced the results of a survey of foreign visitors in which about 15 per cent said they would like to experience life in farming and fishing villages.

Tax free expansion

Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota said at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting late last month that the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry plans to lower the daily total value of items subject to tax exemption with the aim of encouraging foreign visitors to shop more.

The ministry is expected to request the new system to be implemented as part of the government's tax system reforms in fiscal 2016.

Two types of products would be subject to the lowered tax exemption - general articles such as electrical appliances and kimono, and consumables such as foods and beverages.

Currently, a foreign tourist's purchases at any shop on a given day are tax-free if they exceed ¥10,000 (S$117). Under the planned revision, the threshold will be lowered to ¥5,000, according to sources. Positive economic effects are expected in rural areas if the revised tax exemption is applied to small purchases as well as more expensive products.Speech