Japanese tourist market to New Zealand slowly but surely rebounding

Japan was once the lifeblood of New Zealand tourism, but it has been an extremely slow market to come back in a post-COVID-19 world.

However, the latest figures out this week show the market is starting to rebound.

Newshub travelled to Tokyo to see what Aotearoa is doing to lure Japanese tourists back to our shores.

Japan is around 40 percent larger in land area than New Zealand, and there are more than 125 million people living there.

It's a tourism market we want.

"Japan's outbound and inbound market in the two years after COVID-19 has been affected really badly," said Susumu Onuki from Hankyu Travel International.

And the trickle of Japanese tourists back to New Zealand has shown that.

A few months ago visitors to Japan were a little over 20 percent of the numbers pre-COVID-19.

That's compared to, say, Singapore, which is already almost back to 100 percent.

"So it's a really mixed bag. Some markets bounced back really quickly, such as Singapore. Japan and China are slow and cautious," said Rene de Monchy from Tourism NZ.

The Japanese market is an important one to lure back for many reasons.

For one, well, there's a lot of them, and they're big spenders when they come.

But if we want them back, we're going to have to work hard, because unlike the 1980s when we saw a boom, long-haul competition is now fierce.

"On top of that, the Yen is at historical lows so that's proving quite a barrier, and a lot of Japanese are adopting a sit-tight policy," said Clovis Peryer, from Air New Zealand Japan.

"The currency market is quite hard on us right now so it's harder to travel, it's getting really expensive which is a problem," Onuki told Newshub.

Air New Zealand has no plans to bring back the Ōsaka to Auckland leg, but they are scaling up their flights to and from Tokyo.

"We're going back to 10 flights a week in November - and that from Tokyo will be the same as what we were as pre-COVID," Peryer said.

Japan's older population love Aotearoa as a safe and beautiful destination, but the younger population often trend north.

"Among my friends, they are really interested in going to Europe," said Hiyore Sawabe, a university student in Japan.

"They really like the food out there, and also the cultures, scenery, museums and stuff," she told Newshub.

Tourism New Zealand's and Air New Zealand's strategy is marketing our country as a desirable destination, by doing things like bringing Japanese influencers with big followings here to market to their social media audiences.

And then hoping they'll choose to fly Air New Zealand if they do come.

Figures out this week show visitor arrivals are now at 56 percent with aviation capacity recovered to 96 percent.

But that's still less than 1 percent of the Japanese outbound market, so the work to get them here will continue.

Newshub travelled to Japan thanks to the Asia New Zealand Foundation.