Fukushima Prefecture enjoys sharp jump in foreign lodgers

28 April 2019

[Translated by the Japan Times]Foreign hotel stays in Fukushima Prefecture more than doubled to 17,700 in January, marking the highest year-on-year growth among all prefectures, according to Japan Tourism Agency statistics released in March.

Fukushima Prefectural Government officials attribute the robust growth, up roughly 2.4 times from the same month the previous year, to local efforts to work with neighboring prefectures, including Miyagi and Yamagata, to promote tours aimed at people from Taiwan and Thailand, among other places.

It is the first time the monthly figure for foreign lodgers in Fukushima has represented the highest growth in Japan since comparable tourism data became available in 2010.

The prefecture is looking to strengthen the way it promotes local sites and cuisine and take other tourist-oriented measures to take advantage of the April 4 launch of a year-round flight service between Fukushima Airport and Taiwan.

A breakdown of those who stayed in accommodations run by 10 or more employees in January shows that Taiwanese topped the list at 6,160, up about five times from the previous January, followed by Chinese at 1,370, up 1.2 times. Thais and Australians came to about 1,200 each, up 3.8 and 3.1 times, respectively.

Prefectural officials said Taiwanese visitors rose sharply after it called on travel agencies on the self-ruled island to devise tours around new flights not just to Fukushima, but Sendai as well.

Tourists from Thailand are apparently attracted to the winter scenery in places like the Tadami River First Bridge, as more people became familiar with the so-called Diamond Route that connects Tokyo with destinations in Fukushima, Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, while ski resorts in Fukushima have become more well known by skiers from Australia, the officials said.

In 2018 foreign lodgers in Fukushima reached 120,250, surpassing the 100,000 line for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis in 2011. That’s a vast contrast from the 24,000 logged that year, when visitors plummeted to just 30 percent of the 2010 level.

In November and December last year, the prefecture hosted 1.4 and 1.8 times more foreigners, respectively, than in the same months a year before.

Miyagi and Niigata also saw significant increases in foreign visitors in January.

Fukushima officials credited the same joint promotion efforts, including campaigns conducted by the three prefectures in Taiwan, and model tours they conducted with Tochigi Prefecture for travel agency representatives from Thailand.

Fukushima expects to receive up to 7,000 travelers from Taiwan a year as the prefecture’s plans for the flight service call for two round-trip charter flights a week, or 208 flights a year.

Officials said they will continue measures to attract more tourists, such as by advertising local specialties and cuisine, providing information in foreign languages, and helping retailers adopt cashless payment systems.

“We hope to utilize every possible means to promote the prefecture’s attractiveness as a tourist destination to bring in more visitors,” a prefectural official in charge of tourism said.