An increasing number of foreign tourists are staying at hotels and inns in rural areas of Japan, spreading the positive economic impact across the country, a government report said.

Stays by foreign tourists outside the metropolitan areas surrounding Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya accounted for over 40 percent of the total for the first time in 2017, according to the white paper on tourism, approved by the cabinet on Tuesday.

With the government aiming to lift the ratio to 50 percent toward the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, the report underscored plans to enhance necessary measures to attain the goal.

According to the report, Kagawa, Saga, Aomori, Okinawa and Okayama prefectures saw particularly strong demand for hotel and inn stays by foreign travelers last year on the back of new or increased flights linking them with China or South Korea.

They ranked first to fifth in the list of prefectures in terms of rises in the number of foreigners’ stays in 2017 from 2012.

As prime examples of how to attract foreigners, the white paper referred to unlimited ride tickets offered by a railway company in the Shikoku region and events held in Saga in line with the release of a Thai movie.

As the five prefectures saw more hotel construction, the white paper concluded that the rise in foreigners’ stays helped spur local economies, while calling for local authorities to tailor measures to lure tourists in line with their own characteristics.

Tourism is a pillar of the growth strategy of the government, which aims to increase the annual number of foreign travelers to Japan to 40 million by 2020 and to 60 million by 2030. Last year, a record-high 28.7 million tourists visited Japan.

Viewing tourism as a key for revitalizing rural economies, the government hopes to see more foreigners visiting areas beyond popular big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya.

The white paper noted the need for increasing the number of repeat tourists to Japan and presenting them with the option of rural areas as their new destinations.

The report also called for improving tourists’ satisfaction through such measures as wider use of multilingual translation systems, the promotion of barrier-free facilities and the reduction of waiting time for immigration checks at airports.

The government pledged to enhance the attractiveness of regions outside major cities by utilizing cultural assets and national parks in rural areas.

Meanwhile, encouraging travelers to observe etiquette and resolving traffic jams were raised as challenges to address as the country aims to develop sustainable tourism that can coexist with local citizens’ lives.

According to the Tourism Agency, a foreign tourist spent about 150,000 yen ($1,370) on average last year. The government aims to boost the amount to 200,000 yen so as to achieve the goal of raising overall spending by foreign tourists to 800 billion yen per year in 2020.

The agency’s panel of experts has recommended training tour guides who can explain Japanese culture and local festivals to attract more tourists to remote areas for longer stays.

© KYODO

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