March 19, 2020 / 10:27 AM / in 11 days

Foreign visitors to Japan plunge 58% in February on coronavirus

TOKYO (Reuters) - The coronavirus pandemic is hitting hard at Japan’s tourism industry, with the number of foreign visitors plunging 58% in February from a year earlier, government data showed on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors, wearing protective masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), explore the wooden torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha shinto shrine in Kyoto, Japan March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

Total foreign arrivals, including those for tourism and business, declined to 1.09 million from 2.60 million in the corresponding month last year, the Japan National Tourism Organization said. It was the fifth straight month of declines.

“With the impact of the new coronavirus, demand for overseas travel in many markets including Japan has been curbed,” the agency said in a statement. “We will promote travel to Japan while closely monitoring future market trends.”

Tourism has emerged as a key driver for Japan’s retail and hospitality industries in recent years as they try to offset weak domestic consumption by an ageing and shrinking population.

The virus outbreak has fanned concern that Japan has become over-reliant on tourism, and could make it hard to reach a government target of 40 million visitors this year, up from 31.9 million last year and double those of five years ago.

“These are very tough numbers, and things will probably get still worse,” Japan Tourism Agency commissioner Hiroshi Tabata told a news conference.

Still, Japan will not abandon its goal of 40 million visitors for the year, he said, adding, “This is an important government growth strategy, and both the public and private sectors will continue to aim for this”.

Japan is also insistent that is not preparing to postpone the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled from July 24-Aug. 9.

Arrivals from China, normally the biggest source of tourists to Japan, sank 88% last month, the data showed, after it halted all tour groups to other countries over the virus.

Arrivals from South Korea plummeted 80%. Apart from the virus, South Korea has been boycotting Japanese goods and services since a trade dispute erupted between the neighbours last year.

Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Chris Gallagher; Writing by Chris Gallagher and Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Frances Kerry

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