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In his keynote address titled “Tourism as a two-way business for mutual economic and social cooperation” to a packed house of industry leaders, His Excellency Kenji Hiramatsu underscored the importance of tourism in driving cultural, political and diplomatic ties between the two nations. He expressed hope that with more direct air-connectivity between Indian and Japanese airports and pronounced outreach in the Indian market, aided by more cultural and tourism events, larger numbers of  Indians will find Japan as a desirable tourist destination. Excerpts from his address.

11There is plenty of room for growth in travel and tourism

First of all, I would like to offer my congratulations to all of you on the opening of this India Outbound Summit. India is one of the fastest growing travel markets in the world. India achieved the milestone of 10 million outbound travellers, for the first time, in 2008 – and reached the level of more than 20 million outbound travellers in 2015. United Nation’s tourism organisation, UNWTO project predicts that India will account for more than 50 million outbound by 2020.

Tourism is an extremely significant industry. Regardless of the purpose of visit, whether it is for business, or sight-seeing, tourism creates positive economic activities, connecting people and enhancing political, cultural and social understanding in each country. Japan and India have enjoyed strong cultural ties since ancient times. In recent years, the co-operation between Japan and India has been rapidly developing in many fields, such as manufacturing industries and major infrastructure projects like Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project and dedicated freight corridor project between Mumbai and Delhi.

Beside the economic aspect, the strategic importance of Japan-India relationship has been certainly becoming more and more relevant in the past few years. On the other hand, actual people-to-people interaction between Japan and India through tourism has not been as active as we would have expected. The total number of visitors to Japan from India was 1,23,000 in 2016, and out of these visitors, only 49,700 were tourists.

I firmly believe that there is plenty of room for expansion in travel and tourism between Japan and India, considering the strong diplomatic and business relationships between the two countries. Japan may yet not be perceived as a very well-known tourism destination by the Indian traveller, but Japan certainly comes as one of the most popular tourism destinations in the world. In fact, the number of tourists to Japan has been steadily rising in the last few decades, and last year we received a total of 24 million visitors to Japan – which amounts to an increase of 21% in comparison to the previous year – out of which more than 21 million were tourists. Furthermore, popular and attractive tourist cities, such as Tokyo and Kyoto have always enjoyed high ranking as desirable cities to live and visit in the world’s renowned magazines and newspapers.

Japan: A unique land with diverse experiences

Japan offers a vast array of unique and diverse geographical and cultural experiences in a compact territory. The distinct change of four seasons over here influences Japanese aesthetics and sensibilities, and this permeates all the layers of Japan’s life. From the appreciation of nature, most famously, the cherry blossoms in spring, to architecture, design, art, fashion and cuisine. Japan’s distinct geography and culture has something for everybody. A list of Japan’s unique and special features is known, but if you allow me, I would like to highlight a few.

We have snow-capped volcanoes, like representative Mt. Fuji; lush tropical reefs and beautiful beach in Okinawa; the hustle and bustle of mega cities like Tokyo which is one of the most populous metropolis; aesthetic zen garden in Kyoto – Japan’s cultural capital for thousand years; sad memories in Hiroshima; Buddhist temples, colourful summers and autumn festivals, folk villages, high-speed trains, and many more.

Wherever our visitors come to Japan, they can experience a particular Japanese way of life. Japan has an advanced society where tradition blends with modernity, in a manner that has no parallel with any other country in the world. This is the reason why Japan is not only an interesting tourism destination as a foreign country, but you may also learn a new way of seeing and perceiving life. Likewise, when Japanese people visit India, they come in contact with the Indian culture in direct and candid manner, and these experiences are what make travel and tourism such an attractive industry and a two-way business for mutual economic and social cooperation.

Direct air-connectivity between airports will improve numbers

Having said that, I believe there is still much to do to enhance awareness of Japan as a tourist destination among the people of India. Therefore, the Japanese government is now planning to expand tourist promotion of Japan through television, social media and movies. Especially 2017 is dedicated as the India-Japan friendly exchanges, and the embassy of Japan is organising many cultural and tourism events. I hope Indian people will enjoy many aspects of the Japanese culture, throughout India this year.

I also think that it is necessary to expand the civil aviation network between Japan and India. Currently, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways operates 21 flights weekly and Air India operates 7 flights a week. Although, there are direct flights from Delhi and Mumbai to Japan, passengers from major metropolitan cities, such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata mostly use in-direct flights to Japan via Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. I expect drastic improvement in air-connectivity between major airports in India and Japan, creating more air traffic options between the two countries.

I am delighted to be here with influential leaders in the India tourism industry to have a serious discussion on the Indian outbound tourism market and I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all the people who are working for this very important summit.  I strongly believe that this summit will be a significant step forward in Indian tourism, leading to a much higher level of Japan-India tourism exchange

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