'Off the beaten path' Japanese sites drawing more tourists

Kanazawa on Honshu island is one of the top three Japanese cities which had the biggest increase in interest. Japan has set a target of attracting 20 million tourists a year by 2020.
Kanazawa on Honshu island is one of the top three Japanese cities which had the biggest increase in interest. Japan has set a target of attracting 20 million tourists a year by 2020.PHOTO: TRIPADVISOR

When it comes to year-on-year rise in travel interest to Japan, S'pore's No. 2

It is the school holidays and, chances are, you know of friends who are now on holiday in Japan, a popular draw for Singaporeans.

More Singaporeans are visiting the East Asian country, contributing to a 15 per cent rise globally in travel interest to Japan last year.

A study by travel site TripAdvisor had measured markets showing the greatest year-on-year rise in travel interest to Japan based on traffic sessions on its site. It found China to be Japan's top inbound source with increased interest of 130 per cent. This was followed by Singapore with a rise of 37 per cent and Indonesia with an increase of 30 per cent, it said in a release yesterday.

TripAdvisor did not say why it focused on Japan, but it has done similar studies on countries like India.

The Japan National Tourism Organisation said about 300,000 Singaporeans visited the country last year, up from 220,000 in 2014.

Travel agencies here also said they have seen bookings to Japan increase by up to 25 per cent in the last year, due in part to a weaker yen, lowered or removed fuel surcharges, and more charter flights to destinations such as Okinawa.

"Japan is gearing up to host the 2020 Olympics, so there is a strong push for tourism and opening up different kinds of market segments," said Dynasty Travel's director of public relations and communications Alicia Seah.

She added: "There are more English and Chinese signage, and it is also very Muslim-friendly - there are Muslim-certified restaurants and prayer facilities in some hotels - which attracts many people from the South-east Asia region."

A record 19.73 million people visited Japan last year, a 47 per cent increase from 2014. Chinese travellers made up a quarter of inbound arrivals to Japan last year.

Japan has set a target of attracting 20 million tourists a year by 2020, when it hosts the Olympic and Paralympic games in Tokyo.

The TripAdvisor study also found a growing appetite for off-the-beaten-path destinations in Japan, as the top three cities with the biggest increase in interest were Kanazawa on Honshu island, Ishigaki in the Okinawa prefecture, and Takayama, in a mountainous area in central Japan.

Of the top 10 Japanese cities with the biggest increase in traveller interest, Takayama received the highest ratings across all business categories on TripAdvisor, including eatery (4.32 out of 5), accommodation (4.18 out of 5) and attraction (4.23 out of 5).

Repeat visitors to Japan are likely to look for new experiences, such as staying in inns in small towns and living like locals, said Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam.

Chan Brothers Travel, which had seen a 20 per cent increase in bookings to Japan last year, said it is seeing more demand for free and easy holidays as Singaporeans are becoming increasingly adventurous.

Student Tania Cheong, who is now on her fifth trip to Japan, said: "I appreciate how history and culture is interweaved in their public spaces, and I like how the Japanese are always so patient and enthusiastic about offering their help."

The 22-year-old, who is on a two-week trip with friends to cities such as Kyoto and Osaka, said: "Despite travelling to Japan so many times, it always feels new and refreshing. Japan just doesn't seem to disappoint me."

• Additional reporting by Cheryl Lin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline ''Off the beaten path' Japanese sites drawing more tourists'. Print Edition | Subscribe