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Takahiko Ohata, Chairman of OTOA

Chairman of OTOA
Takahiko Ohata

Last year saw the number of Outbound travelers from Japan overtaken by the number of Inbound visitors, with Japan’s Inbound Market growing even more quickly than expected to reach the brink of the mutual target of 20,000,000.

2014 was declared ‘Inbound Year One’ and at the ‘Cabinet Meeting on Tourism Nation Promotion’ in June that year, the ‘Action Plan 2014 for realizing a Tourism Nation’ was laid out, with a stated target of increasing the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 20,000,000 annually by 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympic & Paralympic Games. The Plan included a variety of policies aimed at achieving this target, including the relaxation of visa-regulations, the expansion of CIQ-infrastructure to handle increasing visitor numbers, and the widening of Consumption Tax exemptions. And, for sure, reaching the brink of 20,000,000 annual visitors, while putting the country’s Tourism Balance in credit for the first time in 55 years are laudable achievements.

On the other hand, of course, the number of Japanese Outbound travelers, after peaking at 18,430,000 in 2012, has continued to decline thereafter. And with Terrorism & Political Instability becoming global phenomena, no longer restricted to specific regions of the world, and relations with Japan’s immediate neighbors still tense, it is little wonder that more and more Japanese tourists, so sensitive to the issue of safety, choose not to travel abroad. And, these are not the only factors keeping japanese travelers at home. The ever-weakening yen serves only to make overseas travel more & more expensive. And, the increase in non-contract employees, uncertainty in the employment market, and stagnant wage-levels are all issues which particularly effect the young-adult generation amongst whom demand for Overseas Travel was already weak. At this point, not only Tour Operators, but also many Travel Agents with a heavy dependency on Outbound Travel, are staring into the abyss.

As I said on this stage a year ago, the Tourism Agency’s Action Program expounds the promotion of Two-Way Tourism, through the growth of a balanced exchange in both Outbound & Inbound Tourism with countries worldwide. However, from my perspective, that balance in Inbound & Outbound Tourism is not being realized. At the very least, the promotion of Outbound Travel seems to have been left solely to the private sector. While in no way wishing to negate Inbound Travel promotion, I feel very strongly that Government should implement specific strategies and measures to support the promotion of Outbound Travel. For instance, and these are purely examples, issuing free passports to the young generation, and granting the costs of travel for children and grand-children the status of tax-free gifts, are policies which can only be initiated at Government level.

We in OTOA continue to support those countries actively working to attract Japanese Outbound visitors, by sending missions to provide educational training, while at the same time working to improve product planning standards by contributing to the creation of attractive travel products and maintaining our focus on constant improvement of our own product & service levels.

Of course, there are limits to what the private sector can achieve alone. But, it is our conviction that not only the membership of OTOA, but our friends and partners across Embassies, Tourist Offices, the International hotel Industry and JATA desire nothing more than a revival in Outbound Travel from Japan, and the ‘Realization of Genuine Two-Way Tourism’.

Thank you.

Takahiko Ohata, Chairman