From a high of 6,967 tourists in 2012, the number has dwindled down to 2,707 last year

Tourism: Tourist arrivals from Japan, one of the major international markets for Bhutan, slumped by more than 30 percent last year, records with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) show.

About 2,707 Japanese tourists visited the country last year, the lowest since 2010.  In 2013, the country recorded some 4,015 Japanese tourists against 6,967 the previous year.

Tour operators attribute the drop mainly to the weakening yen against US dollar, following the economic slowdown in Japan since last year.  Myanmar emerging as a new tourist destination also diverted some potential visitors to Bhutan, they said.

Some tour operators also linked the drop to the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer for Thai nationals last year during the lean seasons.  As most Japanese travelled during lean season months, tour operators said they were also hopeful of a similar offer.

“This is based on the feedback we got from our counterpart agents abroad,” a tour operator said. “We’ve been told that many Japanese were inquiring if a similar offer was being made.”

With the yen weakening further, tour operators, who target Japanese tourists, are expecting a bigger drop in arrivals this year.  As of yesterday, the exchange rate of the yen was 119 against one USD, while it was about 90 against one USD early last year.

“As the daily tariff is charged in USD, and given the weakening yen, Bhutan becomes an expensive destination,” another tour operator said.

Records with TCB show a steady increase in arrivals of Japanese tourists since 2004, when the country recorded 1,087 tourists.  In 2012, for the first time Japan surpassed America in terms of international visitor segment.  The country usually sees the highest arrivals from the US, followed by Japan.

The peak arrivals in 2012 were mainly attributed to His Majesty the King and the Gyaltsuen’s visit to Japan in 2011, which generated enormous publicity, followed by TCB follow-up promotion and marketing activities in Japan.

The 2013 tourism monitor states that Japanese tourists, who visit Bhutan, are highly educated, with most of them holding university degrees.  Japanese visitors usually travel as part of organised tour groups, and groups of friends, followed by couples.

The monitor stated that, although a majority of Japanese tourists visited Bhutan for the first time, a higher percentage indicated their interest to visit again in future. “Half of the Japanese visitors chose Bhutan as a sole destination, and didn’t combine their trip with any other destinations in the region,” the monitor states.

Others combined their trips with Thailand and India, while most indicated that their holiday time was generally from June to August.

Kinga Dema


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