Tohoku prefectures huddle to find ways to woo, cater to foreign tourists

【Translated by The Japan Times】To attract more foreign visitors to Tohoku, governors from the six prefectures in the region have agreed to establish a comprehensive sightseeing route and develop other promotional measures. At a symposium earlier this month in Sendai, the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization, which hosted the event, set a goal of bringing in 1 million tourists this fiscal year. The governors shared the view that Tohoku is far behind places like Hokkaido, Kyushu and Okinawa. “We are not seeing an increase in overseas visitors to Tohoku because of the negative effects of the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant,” Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said. “It’s important that we convey the message in and out of Japan that Fukushima is making . . . steady progress in reconstruction,” he said, calling on governors from the other Tohoku prefectures to cooperate. Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai stressed the importance of the task, saying “tourism won’t expand if we are only looking at domestic visitors when the population is declining.” Yamagata Gov. Mieko Yoshimura said Tohoku’s snow should be marketed. “We need to cooperate (on a sightseeing route) and hopefully, we can hold a snow festival together with 1 million visitors,” she said. Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura, Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso and Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake also attended the symposium. The Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization consists of public and private entities from Tohoku’s six prefectures and Niigata Prefecture, as well as East Japan Railway Co. (JR East). About 800 municipal officials and tourism representatives attended the gathering. Junichi Konno, a TTPO director, said Tohoku needs to pitch its charms to foreigners and come up with better ways to promote itself. Satoshi Seino, the chairman, said: “We have confirmed that we’ll work together hand in hand. It’s a good start.” Tohoku’s promotion drive will be conducted in tandem with a Reconstruction Agency project in which measures in five areas will be tested to find the most effective tourism policies for the region. The agency will study the effectiveness of the trial to achieve the central government’s goal of attracting 1.5 million foreign visitors by 2020. The “sightseeing promotion” trials, however, will cater to individual tourists rather than group tours. One of the five categories, educational tourism, will involve attempts to conduct student exchanges and youth camps, while one called business training will see demand from overseas companies gauged to determine areas where people would be interested in being invited to Japan to learn about advanced technology. The project will also have a “tour guide training” trial for Japanese under which language training will be provided and better ways to host visitors will be studied. Under the “improving access” category, the tourism industry will study better transportation methods and routes to make it easier to access mountains and other remote areas for sightseeing.