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Japan logs October tourism record as neighbors get extra time off

Japan logs October tourism record as neighbors get extra time off

TOKYO — International visitor arrivals in Japan surged 21.5% on the year in October, setting a record of 2.59 million for the month, the country’s tourism promoter announced on Wednesday.

The total for the first 10 months of the year hit 23.79 million, up 18% from the same period in 2016, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

By origin, China topped the list with 663,800 travelers in October, up 31% on the year. The count from South Korea hit 620,900, after a 38% climb, followed by Taiwan at 421,100, up 18%. The big numbers from these markets are partly attributable to extra-long holiday periods, the JNTO said.

China had eight consecutive days off around its National Day on Oct. 1; seven had been the norm. South Korea’s harvest celebration lasted an unprecedented 10 days. Taiwan also had a stretch of four consecutive holidays in the month.

By growth rate, visitors from Russia led the way at 43%, reaching 9,300. This was thanks to a relaxation of visa requirements back in January, along with increased flights connecting the Russian Far East with Japan.

Separately, the Japanese government said on Nov. 4 that this year’s total visitor count had already exceeded the 24.03 million welcomed all of last year. The goal is to attract 40 million by 2020 — the year of the Tokyo Olympics — and 60 million by 2030.

Tax tuneup 

To help maintain the momentum, the government plans to change its tax system for international visitors.

One idea is to offer easier access to consumption tax breaks, allowing visitors to combine purchases to reach the 5,000 yen ($44) minimum for eligibility. Under the current system, each purchase must be worth at least 5,000 yen to qualify; if you buy a 3,000 yen T-shirt and 2,000 yen worth of snacks, you are out of luck.

When combining purchases, visitors would have to place them in clear plastic bags for easy inspection.

The Ministry of Finance and the Japan Tourism Agency intend to incorporate this new policy in tax revisions for fiscal 2018, after discussions with the ruling party’s tax commission. This means the new rules could take effect next summer. 

Meanwhile, the government is looking to introduce a 1,000 yen departure tax on anyone leaving the country — Japanese residents included. This is likely to be tacked on to airfares.

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