Keeping the tourism dollar at home

Fast and effective: Chinese tourists packing their shopping into a suitcase at a department store in Tokyo. Reuters

CHINESE travellers’ craze for made-in-Japan goods is so pronounced that the phenomenon became a buzzword in Japan last year. Bakugai (meaning “explosive buying”) is the new Japanese term coined to describe the buying sprees of Chinese shoppers.

Some Japanese companies have even designed special products with an eye on Chinese shoppers in Japan.

For example, electronics maker Panasonic designed a triangular robot vacuum cleaner available in gold, a favourite colour among the Chinese. It weighs only 3kg and specialises at getting into corners.

Also, Tokyo-based SoftBank has established a new inbound online travel agency, which is listed on Alitrip, the travel marketplace of e-commerce giant Alibaba. It plans to serve Chinese tourists looking for alternatives to well-trodden destinations in Japan.

The number of Chinese tourists travelling to Japan has jumped dramatically in recent years, providing an important boost to the Japanese economy.

Due partly to a big decline in the yen, which started in late 2012 and makes Japan more affordable for overseas visitors, 4.65 million Chinese visited the island nation from January to November last year, up 109.4% from the same period in 2014, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

The number has stabilised at around 300,000 a month.

A 2014 report by brokerage and investment group CLSA forecasts the number of outbound Chinese tourists to reach 200 million a year by 2020, and the amount of money they spend abroad to triple.

In 2014, Japan’s travel balance – calculated by subtracting how much Japanese spend overseas from the amount foreign visitors spend in Japan – moved into the black for the first time in 55 years.

The special demand created by foreign tourists, mainly from China, is beginning to bring benefits not only to big cities but also to local regions.

Bakugai of Chinese, as well as from high-spending tourists from other countries, has been a blessing for Japanese retailers, which have been struggling in recent years.

High-traffic destinations like Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka have seen their retail outlets — especially department stores, electronics shops and drug stores — rolling out the red carpet for the big-spending visitors, with consumer tax rebates and multilingual staff in place to encourage them to leave more money behind.

Japan has relaxed visa requirements. To lure more big spenders, it has also slashed the sales tax on a wider range of items favoured by foreign tourists and is setting up duty-free counters in hundreds of shops across Tokyo and other places. Behind these initiatives are Japan’s top-quality goods and meticulous customer service.

Japan expects spending by tourists to exceed 4 trillion yen (RM1.5bil) by 2020 when Tokyo will host the Olympic Games.

To further cater to the ever-expanding foreign tourist market, Tokyo will open an airport-style duty-free store — one of the largest in the Japanese capital — at the massive Tokyu Plaza Ginza commercial complex. — China Daily/ Asia News Network

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