It was recently announced that the Japan Tourism Agency intends to offer free air travel to tourists visiting Japan next year as a way to stimulate tourism and the economy. This plan is included in their annual budget which must be approved by the Japanese Government (Diet).
Multiple news sources, in reporting this story, note that tourism levels in Japan have dropped sharply since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the northern Tohoku region – but I suspect the strength of the Japanese Yen also has something to do with it (now at 76.80 to the US dollar).
Under the plan, which may begin as early as April of next year – which is when new fiscal years typically begin in Japan – prospective tourists will be asked to fill out an application, indicating what parts of Japan they would like to visit. Passport ID numbers would be required as part of the application process. The tourism agency will select 10,000 entries after background checks are conducted to ensure that tourists will not enter and stay in the country illegally. These 10,000 lucky people will have their round-trip airfare paid for in full, while being responsible for all other costs (food, lodging, transportation, etc)… they will also be asked to write a report about their trip which will be published online. The tourism agency is hoping that tourists spreading the word about their Japan trip through social media (Facebook, Blogs, YouTube, etc) will stimulate more travel in the country.
I would keep an eye on the websites of the Japan Tourism Agency (http://www.mlit.go.jp/kankocho/en/) and the Japan National Tourist Organization (http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/) to see if and when the application process will begin. Once again, the Diet will need to approve the tourism agency’s budget before this process can begin.
I won’t lie… I definitely will be one of the many people submitting their applications for a free airplane ticket to the land of the rising sun. You have been warned.