The Japan Tourism Agency has proposed offering free airfare to 10,000 foreigners to visit the country next year. The project would only cover travelers’ airline fees: visitors would have to pay their own food, lodging and other costs. Still, if implemented, it will cost about ¥1.1 billion ($14.3 million). That’s roughly 10% of the tourism agency’s overall 2012 budget appropriation request, and an indication of how serious the tourism slide may have become. The national budget is expected to be approved in parliament next March. “Since the earthquake, the number of visitors has dropped drastically, so to make an impact we think it’s necessary to have this many people (10,000) come to Japan,” said Shuichi Kameyama, a Japan Tourism Agency official, on Tuesday.
The stats confirm the slide: The number of foreign visitors in Japan dropped 32% to 546,800 people in August compared to the same period the previous year, marking the sixth consecutive monthly decline, according to official numbers from the Japan National Tourism Organization, the operational arm of the national tourism agency. Visitors from the U.S. have fallen off by a third and almost half as many people from France came to Japan in August compared to the previous year. Those declines have inevitably pinched the local economy. The Japan Tourism Agency said spending by foreign tourists dropped about 47% to ¥120.8 billion during the April to June period compared to the previous year.