The lure of the cherry blossom drew a record number of visits by Australians to Japan in May, according to information released on Friday by the ABS.
But if tensions rise further on the Korean Peninsula, tourism to the region is likely to sink given the importance of personal security when Australians decide where to travel, according to one tourism expert.
More than 1000 trips each day took Australians to the land of the rising sun in May, capping an extraordinary boom in tourism since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Monthly trips from Australia dropped to below 10,000 for six months in the wake of the catastrophe, but have grown to more than 30,000 in recent years.
Dr David Beirman, senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the result reflected a long-term strategy from Japanese tourism officials to appeal to more price-conscious travellers.
“Their rail pass for example has been a huge success and they’ve also been trying to tell people that Japan isn’t always about high price, five star accommodation,” he said.
“They’ve really tried to encourage people to see more of Japan and the results have been pretty successful.”
Last year Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set an ambitious target to double the number of overseas tourists by 2020.
Japan overtook Singapore in May – the height of the country’s famous cherry blossom season – to become Australians’ seventh most popular destination.
New Zealand, Indonesia (mostly Bali) and the United States are clear leaders with almost double the monthly trips of other destinations.
But Japan could threaten the UK as Australia’s fourth most popular destination in coming years.
Dr Beirman said growth in tourism to Japan was likely to continue thanks to ongoing marketing, cheap flights, and the appeal of Japanese food, culture and hospitality.
The major risk he suggested came from potential conflict developing on the Korean peninsula.
“The perception of safety and security is actually the number one motivation for people to travel – or not to travel.”
North Korea has fired test missiles into the sea to the north of Japan this year and the two capitals Pyongyang and Tokyo are separated by less than the distance between Melbourne and Brisbane.
The information released by the ABS also shows strong growth in inbound tourism, which rose almost eight per cent in the previous year.
Large increases in visitors from the US, Canada, Indonesia, Germany and India over the previous 12 months were recorded.
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