Direct flights and increasing port calls are pushing up numbers, raising the prospect of travel from nearby Asian nations.
A sudden proliferation of low-cost carriers and rising frequencies of air and sea routes are driving rapid growth in Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost archipelago.
Direct flights are now in operation from countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, as well as the rest of Japan.
The main airport in Naha now receives more than 200 direct international flights per week, compared to just 40-50 only five years ago, Yasushi Nakamura, vice president of the Okinawa Tourist Service, tells TTG Asia.
Port calls were up 33% last year, according to the Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau, and more than 500 cruise ships docked on the island chain, many of which hailed from Taiwan and China.
The result has been a surge in visitor numbers – nearly 2.7 million in 2017, a 26.4% year-on-year rise, the bureau says.
While some experts say that the islands’ Instagram-worthy beaches have attracted the younger market, others attribute the archipelago’s popularity to Japan’s relaxation of visa requirements and its proximity to other Asian nations.
More flights and another airport are scheduled to open this year, so that by 2021, as many as 12 million visitors are expected.
The travel agency Kinki Nippon Tourist Group says its April to June Okinawa sales are up 30% over the same period last year, while Ryubo Travel Service reports a 113% rise in sales for the first five months of 2018.
The hotel market has responded with a splurge of openings, including the glamping resorts Island Magic Senagajima and Kariyushi Beach Glamping, plus DoubleTree by Hilton Okinawa Chatan Resort in June and Iraph Sui, a Luxury Collection Hotel, in late 2018. The Hilton Okinawa Sesoko Resort is set to open for 2020.