Inbound travel on its ways to return to pre-COVID levels. A 170% increase from 2021.
This research is based on the "Overnight Stay Travel Statistics Research" (「宿泊旅行統計調査」) published by the Japan Tourism Agency.
According to the research, the total number of international overnight guests from January 2022 to November 2022 was 10,779,840. Compared to 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers are -89.9%. However, compared to 2021, the second year of COVID-19 pandemic, the rate increased 170.4%.
■Rapid increase in the number of international overnight guests after October 2022
The graph below shows the total number of international overnight guests in 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2022, the third year of COVID. Compared to 2019, the total number of international overnight guests in 2022 is lower than the same month in 2019 for every month.
Changes in the total number of international overnight guests
*The line graph shows the total number of overnight guests in 2022, and the gray area shows the total number of international overnight guests in 2019.
Period: January - December 2019, January - November 2022
On the other hand, compared to 2021, the total number of international overnight guests in 2022 has increased dramatically since October. Although the numbers have not yet bounced back to pre-COVID levels, it may be safe to say that inbound tourism is steadily recovering.
Change in the total number of international overnight guests
*The line graph shows the total number of overnight guests in 2022, and the gray area shows the total number of overnight guests in 2021.
Period: January 2021 - November 2022
In October 2022, the border regulations were significantly relaxed for all returnees and entrants, excluding those with symptoms or those suspected to be infected with COVID-19. Its impact is apparent from the graph.
Inbound travel, which was hit hard by COVID-19, is expected to continue to gradually recover now that various regulations have been eased.
■South Korea is the top country of origin, and the number of Chinese tourists is down 98% from pre-COVID numbers
We also researched the countries of origin of international tourists who visited Japan in 2022. The country with the largest number of inbound tourists is South Korea, with over one million tourists having visited Japan last year. South Korea is followed by Taiwan, which is followed by the U.S., then Vietnam, then Hong Kong.
As for China, it had by far the largest number of visitors compared to other countries, with about 9.6 million tourists visiting Japan in 2019. In 2022, however, there were only approximately 190,000, a 98% decrease. This is thought to be due to the ongoing travel restrictions on overseas travel to Japan and reentry restrictions upon return to China, as well as the border regulations for visitors from China that Japan had implemented at the time.
Which prefectures are popular among international tourists?
Next, let's look at a ranking of which prefectures international tourists are visiting most based on the location of their overnight stays.
■As the pandemic comes to an end, is Tokyo becoming the most popular destination?
In 2019, Tokyo was in first place, Osaka in second, Kyoto in third, and Hokkaido in fourth. In 2020, the first year of COVID-19, the rankings of Kyoto and Hokkaido flipped, with Hokkaido in third place.
Ranking of prefectures with the most international tourists by overnight stays
Period: January 2019 - December 2020, January 2022 - November 2022
The year 2020 was a time when the approaching reality of COVID-19 was not yet known, and people were mainly recommended to avoid the "Three Cs" (Closed spaces, Crowded places, Close-contact settings) and to wear masks. It is possible that Hokkaido became popular because visitors were acting mindfully and wanted to avoid the crowded urban areas.
In 2022, when the pandemic slowly entered the beginning of its end, Kyoto Prefecture regained its spot as the third most popular prefecture. Other top-ranking prefectures include Chiba Prefecture, with its famous theme parks, and Okinawa Prefecture, a popular sightseeing spot, suggesting that the popularity among classic tourist destinations were showing its return.
In 2022, there is also a growing gap between the number of overnight guests in Tokyo (No. 1) and Osaka (No. 2). Traditionally, South Korean visitors, which has the highest number of visitors, have visited Osaka Prefecture, the food capital of Japan, and Fukuoka Prefecture, which is relatively close in distance to South Korea. In recent years, more and more young South Koreans are visiting Tokyo for tourism. South Korean visitors to Japan may be shifting their interest to Tokyo's progressive and urban tourist spots such as Harajuku and Shibuya.
■Kyoto Prefecture to work on its “nighttime economy” and cashless payments
The graph below shows the annual change in the total number of international overnight guests staying in Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido and Kyoto.
Changes in the total number of international overnight guests
Period: January 2015 - November 2022
Although all of these prefectures saw a drop in 2020, the number of overnight stays exhibited a steady increase from 2015 to 2019.
Kyoto Prefecture, in particular, saw a sharp increase in the number of overnight stays in 2019. One of the reasons for this growth is believed to be the increased awareness of Kyoto's attractions as Kyoto City has, for eight consecutive years, been ranked among the top 10 cities for “The World’s Best Awards,” a list created based on a survey collected from readers of Travel + Leisure, an American travel magazine with global influence. This is believed to be one of the factors that contributed to these results.
In 2019, Kyoto Prefecture was also working on improving its “nighttime economy”* and cashless payments.
*Nighttime economy: Measures aimed at the nighttime period from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. the following day. Creating unique ways to enjoy the nighttime based on local conditions to enhance the economic effects.
As an example of Kyoto City's nighttime economy, we can refer to the efforts of Eikando Temple, a temple famous for its maple trees. At Eikando Temple, regular viewing hours are until 5:00 p.m., but during the autumn foliage season, visitors can visit the temple from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. for its special seasonal hours. At these later hours, the maple trees are illuminated using lights to create an aesthetic atmosphere.
The active and ongoing implementation of these initiatives may also be a factor in Kyoto's growing popularity.
Just as Kyoto Prefecture has been effective in improving the level of satisfaction among international tourists, other regions will surely focus on improving convenience while maintaining the attractiveness of their tourist attractions.
Anticipation for when China eases its overseas travel restrictions
Since China continues to impose overseas travel restrictions to Japan and reentry restrictions upon return to China, it is unlikely that the number of Chinese visitors to Japan will increase rapidly while these restrictions are in place. In Japan, border restrictions on Chinese arrivals were partially eased in March 2023.
China had the highest number of visitors to Japan before the COVID-19 pandemic. What kind of consumption behaviors will we see when Chinese tourists return?
In another "manamina" article published in September 2022 regarding the trends of post-COVID travel, the following was pointed out.
Chinese people have a high level of trust in the quality of Japanese products, and just like their shopping habits in Japan inspired the term "Bakugai" (explosive buying) and became a hot topic, "Material Consumption," in which goods are purchased in large quantities, also became a popular word. This was followed by a shift to "Experiential Consumption," a travel trend that places value on experiences.
However, now that COVID-19 has made traveling to Japan more difficult, there are signs that "Material Consumption" is making a return.
It will be interesting to watch how the partial relaxation of border restrictions will affect the number of visitors in the future and consumption trends.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan｜Regarding measures for resuming cross-border travel
Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) | Number of international visitors to Japan (December 2022 and annual estimates)
Embassy of Japan in China｜COVID-19 infection (Procedures required for travel to Japan)
Honichi Labo | Tourist destinations visited by South Korean tourists in Japan: Fukuoka and Osaka are the most popular destinations. Relatively few visit classic destinations like Tokyo and Kyoto.
Honichi Labo | Kyoto Tourism Comprehensive Survey 2019, 8.86 million international tourists! 98% of respondents were "satisfied" with their visit to Kyoto.
Kyoto Prefecture | Number of tourists and tourism-related consumption in 2019