By Barrett Ishida
Travelers looking for their next international destination are definitely turning their heads to Asia, especially Japan.
You could point to a number of possible reasons - the weak yen, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being on the horizon or even the ramen boom with noodles leading back to its motherland. So what does this tourism uptick mean? Potentially a lot for products and services.
The numbers released by the Japanese government recently show that a record 13.4 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2014. That's a 29% increase from the previous year and double 2011's numbers. Chinese and Koreans leaped over any concerns of diplomatic tensions by bettering their 2013 numbers by 83% and 12% respectively, something especially notable considering that Chinese spend 3 times more while traveling abroad, averaging US $1,000 per person while in Japan. Asian visitors aren't the only ones who are helping this tourism surge though, 12% more Americans also visited Japan last year.
This frenzy has caused a ripple effect. The Japanese government is lifting visa restrictions and hotel owners are adding new hotels to their chain as well as renovating existing ones. Department stores are also witnessing a shopping boost. The Japan Department Stores Association reported that spending by foreign tourists at 46 tax-free locations had a big spike, going from 4.8 billion yen in September last year to 9.2 billion yen in November, hugely benefiting businesses selling products in them.
It's not all a vacation, however. There are many complaints about a lack of English speakers and easily accessible tourist information. Many sites and smartphone apps have been made by Japanese only for Japanese, even popular ones such as Hot Pepper. With an eye on the potential growth between now and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a date in which the Japanese government aims to get 20 million foreign visitors a year by, companies like Yelp have been entering the Japanese market recently. The growing amount of visitors will want to use the reliable services that they are already familiar with. Within these next five years, we will not only see Japanese companies give birth to new foreign visitor-oriented services, we will also see more and more international ones come in to capitalize on this growing opportunity.