The innovative potential of inbound tourism in Japan for destination development − a case study of Hida Takayama

Funck, Carolin GND

In contrast to the rapid development of outbound tourism since the 1980s, inbound tourism has played a minor role in Japan until 2002, when the Japanese government embarked on a policy of active enticement of foreign tourists. Through active promotion and pushed by economic development in neighboring countries, visitor numbers almost doubled from 4,771,555 in 2001 to 8,350,835 in 2008; since then, worldwide economic downturn, disaster, and a soaring yen have taken their toll. However, while their contribution to the overall Japanese tourism market is still well below 10%, an analysis of available data shows that foreign tourists are spread unevenly across the country. As a result, some restricted inbound clusters have evolved. In these places, inbound tourism as a new sector of the tourism market can play an important role in rejuvenation of destinations and innovation in tourism. One such destination is Hida Takayama, a historical town tucked away in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, which is considered a model for the development of inbound tourism in Japan. An analysis of Takayama’s tourism development process identified close cooperation between the public and private sector, the integration of inbound promotion into a wider set of tourism policies, and the combination of independent efforts by the city with active use of national policies as important factors for its formation as an international destination. As a result, the city attracts tourists from a variety of regions. A survey conducted with Japanese and different groups of foreign tourists proved that they differ in motivations and behavior and, therefore, add a stabilizing element to the tourism market. Finally, interviews with key persons from tourism associations and the accommodation industry, and a survey of small-scale businesses to examine innovations induced by the increase in foreign tourists showed that an active embracement of the new market segment is restricted to a small number of facilities. Through these steps of analysis, it could be shown that the impact of international tourism on destinations in Japan is limited to a number of places, where it nevertheless constitutes an important element of market stabilization and rejuvenation. However, its influence and potential for innovation are confined to some facilities within the destination, while the many small businesses forming the tourism industry often react in a passive way.