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Japan’s gateways to the world

Jun 26, 2013
Credit : GMI Post

While Japan has long been among the world’s most popular destinations, it is quite surprising to find out that the government still considers tourism to be a budding sector. It was only in 2003 that the government made it a priority to raise foreign tourist arrivals.

In March 2011, the sector was dealt a huge blow with the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region in eastern Japan.

According to official figures, foreign tourist arrivals fell to 6.3 million that year. Just two years after, that figure has risen beyond pre-disaster levels to 8.6 million.

The remarkable recovery of Japanese tourism speaks to the country’s enduring worldwide appeal; and given Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics, it is hard not to be optimistic for the future.

“Inbound tourists to Japan come mainly from Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and the U.S. A significant number of tourists come from the U.S., with over 710,000 of them in 2012, the largest among non-Asian markets.

This makes the U.S. one of the most important markets for our Visit Japan programs,” said Ryoichi Matsuyama, president of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

“This year, we are aiming for ten million tourists, targeting 800,000 visitors from the U.S.,” Matsuyama added.

The country’s main international gateway — Narita Airport — is expecting a huge growth in flights and passenger traffic.

“With the implementation of the ‘open skies’ policy, we hope to see an increase in the number of flight operations. And with the economic outlook in seemingly good shape, thanks to the administration of Prime Minister Abe, and his government’s policy to promote inbound tourism, we can expect a steady increase in flights to Japan,” said Narita International Airport Corporation (NAA) President and CEO Makoto Natsume.

“Throughout the years, we have increased Narita International Airport’s capacity, and I am pleased to say that our capacity expansion and facility upgrading is on target to accommodate 300,000 annual aircraft movements by fiscal year 2014. One key feature is a dedicated low-cost terminal,” Natsume added.

Narita Airport accommodates over half the total international passengers in Japan

Sharing more than half of the total number of international passengers in Japan, Narita International Airport is rightfully regarded as Japan’s gateway to the world.

“Narita is an important node between Asia and North America. Our network extends to 109 cities around the world. Compared to other airports around Asia, we have a very well-balanced network, especially with our network to North America, which accounts for sixteen percent of our traffic,” Natsume said.

“As for our partnership with U.S. airports, we have very strong ties with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We are currently having discussions with Denver International Airport so that when the inaugural flight is launched, we would like to conclude a sister airport agreement,” he added.

“As a multifunction airport that can meet the diverse needs for air transport in the Greater Capital Area of Tokyo, Narita aims to become the key international hub airport of East Asia and become an airport that is relied on, trusted, favored, and preferred by the customers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Haneda International Airport is capitalizing on its location in central Tokyo in the hopes of attracting more international flights.

“We will have to improve access between the two airports in the future. With the ‘open skies’ policy and the entry of low–cost carriers, passenger demand will increase,” said Isao Takashiro, president of Japan Airport Terminal, the largest shareholder in Haneda International Airport.

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Expert passenger handling at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport

Jun 19, 2013
Credit : GMI Post

Sixty years since it was formed to develop the old Haneda Airfield into the Tokyo International Airport, the Japan Airport Terminal Co. Ltd. (JAT) has overseen the construction and management of passenger terminals in one of the world’s most important financial centers. (Currently, JAT operates one international and two domestic terminals.)

Tokyo's Haneda Airport won "Best Domestic Airport" at the World Airport Awards in 2013 and 2014

In what is clear recognition of JAT’s efficient management, Haneda Airport was named the Best Domestic Airport in Skytrax’s World Airport Awards this year. Located in central Tokyo, Haneda has also been recognized by Forbes Traveler as the most punctual airport in the world for two straight years.

“We consider ourselves to be a highly functional airport, and we will maintain that. But we would like to go beyond functionality. We want the people who visit Haneda Airport to be happy and comfortable. We are also constantly looking for ways to be the ideal place in terms of commercial facilities,” said JAT President Isao Takashiro.

Although JAT is recognized as a pioneer in the field of airport operation and widely known for its expertise in terminal management, the company is also responsible for other aspects of the airport’s business: retail establishments, restaurants, building operations, facilities management, parking lot operations, and in-flight catering.

“We also look into opportunities beyond the scope of the airport. In China, for example, we have a business alliance with Beijing Airport. We also have maintained a business alliance with Gimpo International Airport in Korea for the past ten years that has involved a constant exchange of information and human resources,” said Takashiro.

“We are looking to establish more alliances to share and expand our know-how. In fact, we have received inquiries from a number of countries in Southeast Asia that are interested to have us work with them in airport construction and management. These are the opportunities we are looking into,” he added.

Apart from opportunities abroad, JAT is considering an unexpected move into the higher–education sector. With the University Hub Haneda Airport (UHHA) Project, JAT hopes to capitalize on its position as a transportation hub to be a focal point for exchange of knowledge and information.

“We see ourselves as a central base, not just for air traffic. Haneda Airport can also function as a hub for a variety of things: commercial operations, Japanese culture, and even education. With our UHHA project, we wish to cultivate Japanese youth and promote interest in other countries and cultures. In turn, we hope promote Japanese culture to foreign people,” Takashiro explains.

Over the past few years, the Japanese aviation industry has seen a lot of changes with the steady growth of the tourism sector in Japan, the rise in the number of low–cost carriers, and the adoption of the “open skies” policy.

“Airline companies are working hard to be more efficient and constantly incorporate new measures into their operations. To accommodate these developments, we need to make changes in our system, too. We work on keeping down costs and improving the services we provide, so that we stay ahead of the others,” says Takashiro.

“We are currently building an extension to the international terminal, which will be completed in 2014. So by next year, we will double the number of daytime flights per year to 60,000,” he added.

With its round-the-clock operations and location in Tokyo proper, Haneda provides passengers with two major advantages, which JAT capitalizes on in its objective to become a major regional and international airport.

JAT’s message is simple. “We hope that many people from all over the world will come to Japan. And we hope their pleasant experience will begin and end with Haneda Airport,” Takashiro stressed.


- This Special Report on Japan originally appeared in the July/August 2013 edition of Foreign Affairs (Credit: Janine Ramirez)

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Japan 2013 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

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