Why more Filipino tourists are visiting Japan
MANILA – The number of Filipinos going to Japan as tourists has been increasing over the last few years, data from the Japan National Tourism Organization shows, and the trend is expected to continue in the coming years because of the country’s relaxed visa policy for Filipinos.
In the first two months this year alone, a 133.7 percent increase was recorded in the number of tourists from the Philippines compared with the same months last year, from 8,074 to 18,865, according to the JNTO regional office in Thailand.
The rising number of Filipino tourists in Japan started in 2012 when 48,735 arrivals reflected a 63.4 percent increase from 2011, reversing a downward trend for the period 2011-2010.
It continued in 2013, as 68,720 Filipino tourists visited Japan, up to 2014, when tourist arrivals from the Philippines almost doubled to 136,561.
In 2011, there were only 29,832 recorded tourist arrivals from the Philippines, 43,298 in 2010, 38,107 in 2009, 42,515 in 2008, 45,971 in 2007, 47,255 in 2006, 53,583 in 2005, and 38,223 in 2004.
The JNTO told Kyodo News that the rise in number of Filipinos visiting Japan as tourists in recent years can be attributed to the increasing number of flights between the two countries, the relaxation of Japan’s visa policy for Filipinos, the weakening of the Japanese yen, and the effectiveness of its “Visit Japan” promotion with local travel agencies.
Among the airlines currently with Japan-Philippine flights are Japan Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, All Nippon Airways and Jetstar Airways.
Renato Lirio II, operations manager of travel agency Reli Tours & Travel, added that an increase in disposable income and the saturation of Filipinos’ usual tourist destinations of Hong Kong and Singapore are also contributing factors.
“Under the current administration, the disposable income of the people has increased. There are many medium-paying jobs. There are many jobs in call centers, in the banking industry, in the commercial industry that offer big salary,” Lirio told Kyodo News, noting the rise in per capita income.
“And because they have a big disposable income, and they feel they have had enough already of Hong Kong and Singapore, and since it’s difficult to get a visa to the U.S. and Europe, their next preferred destination is South Korea and Japan,” he went on.
The latest available statistics at the Philippine Department of Tourism show that in 2009, Hong Kong topped the destination of outbound Filipino travelers for various purposes, including holiday trips, accounting for 25.27 percent, while Singapore came second with 16.01 percent. Japan had a share only of 2.83 percent.
In the second half of last year, the Japanese government relaxed its visa policy for Filipinos to boost tourist arrivals from Southeast Asia, granting multiple-entry short-stay visas valid for up to five years.
Official data shows that the Japanese government granted 141,807 short-stay visas to Filipinos in 2014, up by 74.07 percent from 2013, and 145.08 percent higher than in 2012.
“Would you believe that if you join a package tour now, you only need a birth certificate (to get a visa)? So anyone can really go now to Japan, as long as you don’t have a bad record in Japan,” Lirio said.
Dave Bardoquillo, 38, a businessman from Tagum City in the southern island of Mindanao, made his first Japan trip in October last year, together with his family after obtaining multiple entry-visas.
“I choose Japan because I always associated it with snow, and the gadgets, which, I heard, are very durable there. And I like the food, the weather and the culture,” Bardoquillo told Kyodo News, adding that he also views Japan as “less-polluted country.”
His fascination for Japan brought him back there in April, visiting other destinations, while a third trip with his wife is already scheduled this October, thanks to their multiple-entry visas and promo cheap airfare of around $190 total for roundtrip tickets for the two of them.
Mona Garcia, 36, an advertising client service director in Manila, also fulfilled her longtime dream of going to Japan in February this year, exploring Tokyo for five days.
“I’ve been wanting to go there for a long time already, and last February, schedules permitted. It was also a plus that fares were not that expensive,” she told Kyodo News.
Citing “food, culture and the people” of Japan as what draw her there, Garcia believes many other Filipinos will also try to go to Japan with the stronger Philippine peso and the relatively cheaper airfares.
“Japan has so much to offer. I’ve been there twice because I went back this May for an office trip, allowing me to go around Osaka and its neighboring areas, and yet, I still want to go back,” she said.
While he points out the need for more English translation, especially in restaurants and commercial shops, and for better English communication skills among Japanese people to make Japan more foreign tourist-friendly, Bardoquillo thinks these will not discourage Filipinos like him from visiting or returning to Japan.
“I really love to go back because I like their food, especially their fresh fruits. The apples are so crunchy and sweet. I love their culture and the hospitality of the people there. I also missed the experience of going to a public bath,” he said.
Reli Tours & Travel’s Lirio said the weak yen is something that Filipinos can take advantage of because “many goods in Japan now are affordable,” their value down by 20 percent compared with two years ago.
“We now know that Japan is really not that expensive. There a number of myths about Japan with regard to its being an expensive destination. But prices there are really just the same as in Hong Kong and Singapore,” he said.
With the prevailing relaxed visa policy for Filipinos and the JNTO’s introduction of other destinations in Japan, such as Nagano, Naeba, Hakodate and Fukuoka, among others, Lirio is optimistic more and more Filipinos will travel to Japan as tourists within the next two to three years.
“For now, this is just the appetizer, and the main course is yet to be served,” he said.
But he warns Filipinos against abusing Japan’s “generosity” by not returning home after securing a tourist visa, some cases of which he confirmed had already happened.
“While Japan may have eased their visa policy, but due to certain abuses by certain individuals, Japan might tighten it back. That is my concern,” Lirio said.
Edwardo Miguel Guevarra Roldan
Isang Samahan, Isang Pilipinas (ISIP) and Think Philippines!
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