Most observers of the international travel market, including INBOUND, were mildly surprised with the figures on Japan’s number of arrivals that were posted in last October’s long term forecast from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) that projected a five percent increase in the number of visitors to the USA from Japan—up to 3.67 million for last year from 3.5 million in 2018. Moreover, the NTTO forecast sees a combined annual growth rate of 2.5 percent from this year through 2024, with annual visitation reaching nearly 3.9 million in 2024.
Perhaps it is perilous, when studying the data for Japan, of thinking too much in the short term. For, when it comes to Japan—which has been the number two source market for overseas travel to the Unites States for some three decades—the nation’s outbound travel has been steady most of these 30 years.
The rule about thinking too much in the short term seems applicable to the quarterly surveys of the Japanese travel trade by the Japan Association of Travel Agents. (JATA). For years now, the JATA quarterly survey has indicated that travel agents and tour operators who book Visit USA traffic have never been that optimistic about business when looking at the next six months. However, it has never been that pessimistic, either.
So, we decided to look at some of the key data for Japan through a longer-term lens. The result, when one considers the numbers in the tables that follow, is that one gets the sense that, regardless of what happens to holidays abroad by Japanese travels, it will likely recover from any plunge in numbers.
First, here is a window on the past five years of Japanese travel abroad.
Japan Resident’s/Japanese Visits Abroad by Month
Second, see the table below and take a step back and look at a window of Japanese travel abroad for more than the past 50 years. Note that, since 1995, when 15.3 million Japanese traveled abroad, there has been just one year—2001, when travel abroad came to a screeching halt after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States—that the annual number of outbound trips from Japan fell below 15 million: the total that year was 13.3 million. Even in the trough year of 2008—in the midst of the Great Recession—there were more than 15.4 million Japanese who traveled abroad. And as the previous tabled suggested, the total increased year-on-year for five consecutive years from 2015 through 2019.
Japan Residents/Japanese Visits Abroad by Year Since 1964
Another Non-Coronavirus Factor to Consider: Japan’s steadiness and seemingly slow-but-show growth in travel abroad is all the more surprising when one considers the fact that its population is steadily declining. (Japan has the lowest birthrate among the world’s developed nations.) This means that Japan’s traveling population will decrease, too. The country’s overall population began to decline in 2011. In 2014, Japan’s population was estimated at 127 million; this figure is expected to shrink to 107 million (16 percent) by 2040 and to 97 million (24 percent) by 2050 should the current demographic trend continue.
Late this past December, Japan’s health ministry announced that the number of babies born in 2019 fell by an estimated 5.9 percent this year, to 864,000. It’s the first time since 1899, when the government began tracking the data, that the number has dipped below 900,000, according to The Asahi Shimbun.
So, Japan’s outbound travel is likely to remain steady in the future, and whatever decline there is won’t have much to do with the coronavirus.