Tuesday, March 20, 2018

How Will Casino Resorts Change Japan’s Tourism Product? (Infographic)

Casino News Daily
How Will Casino Resorts Change Japan’s Tourism Product? (Infographic)

The relaxation of visa requirements and the weak yen have unleashed the boom of Japan’s tourism, quadrupling the number of international visits over a five-year period and encouraging increased tourism spending. The country recorded 28,690,932 foreign visits last year, up 19.4% year-on-year, and tourism spending of JPY4.416 trillion and has placed the ambitious goal of boosting those figures even further.

The following infographic presents comprehensive information about the (re)evolution of Japan’s tourism industry over the past two decades and complements Casino News Daily’s report about the country’s tourism product and how it would change once a new type of offering – integrated resorts offering casino gambling – is finally introduced.

Japan’s tourism industry has become one of the success stories of Abenomics, the nickname for the multi-pronged set of economic policies advocated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since the beginning of his second term in 2012.

The promotion of Japan as a tourism-oriented country has been one of the approaches deployed by the Japanese government in its attempts to get the nation’s economic mojo back and revive it after its “lost decades”. The policies implemented and certain out-of-country factors resulted in a fourfold jump in the number of foreign visit to Japan in the period between 2012 and 2017 and a threefold rise in inbound tourism spending in the period between 2013 and 2017.

Spotting a stable pattern of growth in the first few years after Abenomics was launched, the country set a goal to draw 20 million inbound tourists per year by 2020. Reaching that target four years ahead (in 2016), Japan now has a new ambitious goal – to be able to welcome 40 million international visitors per year by 2020.

The Japanese government legalized casino gambling in late 2016. The move is expected to create multiple growth opportunities not only for the country’s gambling industry, but also for tourism and other related industries. When built and operational, Japan’s first casinos will be part of larger integrated resorts that are hoped to boost the country’s tourism product even further and attract diverse visitor groups.

How will integrated resorts with gaming floors complement Japan’s existing tourism offering? What types of offering the country needs exactly to improve its tourism product? Will it succeed in becoming the massive $20-plus-billion gambling hub many expect it to become? Casino News Daily is dwelling on these and several more important questions related to the future of Japan’s tourism industry and to what extent casino resorts will participate in this industry’s shaping.

Japan’s Tourism Industry Now: Facts and Figures

The number of international visits to Japan has more than quadrupled over the past five years and has grown at a double-digit rate during each of the same five years. A total of 28,690,932 foreign tourists visited the country in 2017, up 19.4% from the previous year.

Several important factors could be ascribed to the quick and stable growth of Japan’s tourism industry, but the relaxation of visa requirements on a number of occasions over the past few years could be considered one of the most important if not the most important such factor. The first wave of major relaxation appeared in the summer of 2014, when visa requirements for nationals of Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and India were eased. In 2016, visitors from Russia were also treated to relaxed requirements for visiting Japan.

Most importantly, the government of Shinzo Abe wanted to take good advantage of China’s rapidly growing middle class, which is gradually turning into a central economic driver within the Asia-Pacific region (and the rest of the world). Japanese lawmakers first eased visa restrictions for visitors from China in 2014 and 2015 and then undertook further visa requirements relaxation in the spring of 2017. The moves had immediate positive effect on inbound tourism numbers. In 2015, or the first year after the first changes were rolled out, the number of foreign visits to Japan jumped 47.2% year-on-year to 19,737,400.

As for the role of Chinese tourists in the growth of Japan’s tourism industry, they currently represent the largest group of visitors traveling to Japan. As many as 6,372,948 people from China visited Japan in 2016, according to JNTO data. Visits from China accounted for 26.5% of all visits to Japan that year. The Pacific Ocean nation has thus become one of the big beneficiaries of China’s rising middle class.

The weak yen in the years after the introduction of Abenomics further boosted tourist flow to Japan and attributed to the growth of the country’s popularity as an affordable destination. A weak yen generally means that it is cheaper for tourists to visit and it also encourages spending. As seen on the infographic, inbound tourism spending increased three times to JPY4.416 trillion in 2017 from JPY1.417 trillion in 2013.

Analysts believe that the importance of the structural changes adopted by Prime Minister Abe’s government for the promotion of Japan as a tourism-oriented country would soon begin fading. That basically means that the importance of the yen in encouraging tourists to flock to Japan is only poised to grow in the years to come. Thus, it might be imperative for the Japanese government to keep the yen weak if it wants to cement Japan’s popularity as a premier destination.

Japan’s Tourism Product – What It Has and What It Needs

Japan’s rich cultural and natural heritage has always been at the core of the country’s tourism product. For instance, millions of tourists travel to the country each spring to witness the cherry blossom. Millions of others visit for the cultural experience offered by samurai and ninja performers.

According to recent surveys by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, culinary tourism is, too, among the sectors to enjoy great popularity with foreign visitors. It has also been showing great potential to grow even further in the years to come. The Ministry has reported that international visitors to Japan spent the amount of JPY345 billion (approximately $3.2 billion) on food products they took home last year. The figure reported reflected an increase of 19% from 2016.

As mentioned above, inbound tourism spending exceeded JPY4.4 trillion last year. The country is now pursuing a target to double that amount by 2020, along with doubling the number of foreign visitors to 40 million.

Analysts believe that the Japan’s apparently thriving cultural and culinary tourism sectors, among several others, would not be enough for the nation to reach its ambitious target and that it would need to diversify its tourism product and do it quickly. Legislative proposals for improved nighttime entertainment experience and enhanced opportunities for convention activities in the country had already emerged on previous occasions.

And the late 2016 approval of the so-called Integrated Resorts Promotion Bill showed that the Diet was finally ready to look more thoroughly into the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions) model and its possible benefits for Japan’s tourism industry. Integrated resorts with convention and exhibition facilities, food and beverage and retail options, gaming floors, hotel and residential buildings, and many more had worked extremely well first for Macau and then for Singapore, turning both cities in popular gaming, entertainment, and convention destinations.

Many believe that properties of this kind could work equally well within Japan, if the MICE model is implemented in the right manner. According to analysts, integrated resorts will be able to fill several niches within the country’s tourism product that need to be filled. In the first place, the properties will feature different types of offering and thus will be able to attract different tourism groups. In the second place, they will help Japan to meet the demand for hotel rooms that will grow significantly with the expected growth in the number of foreign visitors.

At present, hotel occupancy rates in Tokya, Osaka, and Kyoto, three of the most popular Japanese destinations, stands at over 80%. If the country’s tourism industry manages to keep its momentum, it will be in serious need to optimize rating levels, price points, and experience offered in order to be able to accommodate different groups of tourists who are visiting the nation for different purposes and with different budgets.

Japan’s Issues with Casino Gambling

Full-blown casinos with slot machines and table games will be part of Japan’s integrated resorts, as per the Integrated Resorts Promotion Bill. Here it is important to note that the legislative piece was first introduced in the mid-2000s but failed to gain support in the Diet until December 2016, when it was finally voted on and approved by lawmakers.

Despite providing different forecasts on the size of Japan’s casino market, analysts have generally agreed that the country has huge potential to turn into one of the largest casino hubs in the world in terms of gross gaming revenue generated. According to studies on the topic from previous years, two to three casinos (operating as part of larger integrated resorts) could generate annual gross gaming revenue of between $10 billion and $25 billion.

Some of the powerhouses within the global casino industry, including Las Vegas Sands, Hard Rock International, Caesars Entertainment, Melco Resorts & Entertainment, and Genting Group, have expressed interest in setting up operations in Japan. All of them have confirmed that they are ready to spend big to develop attractive offering for both Japanese and international tourists, which is a huge indication about their confidence in the success of the country’s casino market.

While the IR Promotion Bill legalized casino gambling, the actual foundations of the nation’s casino industry can only be laid after the government crafts and approves the so-called IR Implementation Bill. The legislation is currently in the works in the Diet and is hoped to be voted on by mid-year. The bill aims to set the rules under which the nation’s casino industry will be regulated and to answer important questions, including how many casinos there will be in Japan and how these will be operated and taxed.

According to news sources from Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been pushing for authorization of up to six casinos in different parts of the country. However, its coalition party, the Buddhist-backed Komeito, has been calling for the number of the properties to be limited to just two.

Proponents of the idea for the grant of six casino licenses have pointed out that the move could result in the creation of the world’s second largest casino hub, worth between $15 billion and $25 billion. Opponents have argued that this could magnify Japan’s already serious enough issue with growing gambling addiction rates.

A government survey from 2017 found that an estimated 3.2 million Japanese nationals have been addicted to gambling at some point in their lives. According to the survey, people addicted to pachinko, locally popular gambling machines that feature a pinball-like game, represented the greater portion of the above figure.

Tackling problem gambling issues that might arise from the legalization of casinos topped lawmakers’ agenda when they began work on the IR Implementation Bill. A series of measures that would be intended to reduce the negative impact of increased gambling in the country have been proposed over the past several months. However, analysts and casino industry representatives have warned that some of those measures could have a negative impact on the formation of Japan’s casino industry and on its investment attractiveness.

One of the proposals involved the introduction of a JPY2,000 casino entrance fee for Japanese citizens and foreign residents and of a cap of 10 visits to a casino per month. It has recently become known that Komeito has actually been pushing for a higher entry fee. However, casino operators have pointed out that imposing an entry fee and restricting the number of visits should not be deemed an effective solution for problem gambling.

Other measures currently under discussion revolve around the maximum casino floor space at Japan’s casino resorts. The latest draft of the government’s casino legislation has stated that casinos should not occupy more than 15,000 square meters of space and should represent no more than 3% of the total integrated resort space. The government of Singapore introduced a similar restriction when it crafted its casino law in the mid-2000s.

Larger casino floor proponents have pointed out that the 15,000-square-meter cap is modeled after a city that is not as densely populated as most of the discussed locations for the construction of Japan’s first casino resorts.


Japan’s efforts to promote itself as a tourism-friendly destination are clearly bearing fruit as tourist numbers have been rising year-on-year. The weak yen has made the country quite affordable to visit, while the eased visa restrictions have made it easier to visit.

Whether Japan will manage to maintain its growth momentum depends on how it will develop its tourism product in future. It seems that the Japanese government may finally be ready to integrate casino gaming into the country’s existing tourism offering, but it is yet to be seen how exactly and when the integration will occur and whether the process will be smooth enough and will produce the desired results immediately.

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