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19:03 17 January 2017

Japan sees record foreign visitors, tourist spending in 2016

TOKYO, Jan. 17, Kyodo

Spending by foreign visitors to Japan in 2016 grew 7.8 percent to 3.75 trillion yen ($33.2 billion) and the number of foreign visitors rose 21.8 percent to 24.04 million, both all-time highs, the government said Tuesday.

But the pace of increase in both spending and the number of visitors was much slower than the previous year, when spending soared 71.5 percent and the number of visitors surged 47.1 percent.

The Japan Tourism Agency attributed the 2016 rise in spending to the expansion of duty-free items and relaxed visa requirements for tourists.

It also traced the slowdown in the rate to a stronger yen, China's economic slowdown and the earthquakes that hit Kumamoto Prefecture in April.

Chinese travelers spent an estimated 1.48 trillion yen last year, or 39.4 percent of the total, followed by travelers from Taiwan at 524.5 billion yen and those from South Korea at 357.8 billion yen, according to the agency.

By category, spending on shopping -- the largest share of 38.1 percent of the total -- fell 1.9 percent from a year earlier to 1.43 trillion yen due to a decline in the purchase of luxury brand items and home appliances on the back of the sharp appreciation of the yen around summer and an economic slowdown in China.

Spending on accommodation increased 13.0 percent to 1.01 trillion yen, while spending on food and drink rose 18.0 percent to 757.4 billion yen.

Average spending per visitor fell 11.5 percent from a year earlier to 155,896 yen, the agency said.

Of the total visitors, Chinese accounted for the largest portion at 26.5 percent, totaling 6.37 million visitors, up 27.6 percent from the previous year, followed by 5.09 million from South Korea and 4.17 million from Taiwan.

China hit the 6 million mark for the first time among other countries and regions, the Japan National Tourism Organization said.

In a bid to attract 40 million tourists in 2020, when Japan will host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the government is planning to upgrade airports and seaports, as well as improve access to national parks and cultural attractions.

==Kyodo

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