Okinawa reaches out to Europeans

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Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau

Islands expect better connections next year with third airport

A rise in air connections is boosting arrivals to Okinawa, which is looking at continued growth next year with the opening of a third international airport. This will encourage more people from Europe to visit Japan’s southernmost island chain.

Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau’s overseas team chief Shinji Murakami, who is in Madrid on a tour of European cities, tells TTG Asia that arrivals are expected to increase from 2.07 million in 2016 to 2.6 million this year.

While most visitors are from neighbouring countries in Asia, led by Taiwan and followed by South Korea, Hong Kong and China, the destination has its sights set on other feeder markets, Murakami said.

The CVB hopes to leverage the archipelago’s reputation as the home of karate to attract more non-Asians, in addition to its main sales pitch on natural marine beauty and being “subtropical Japan”.

“We are now looking for more people from Europe, a market that is about 20% of the total,” he said. “Instead of them visiting Japan, then adding on a beach holiday in, say, the Maldives, we are encouraging them come to Okinawa. We are already getting more requests from European operators.”

Via Asia’s hubs
The main Asian source markets also serve as effective transit points in bringing Europeans to Okinawa, with Hong Kong two-and-a-half hours away, Shanghai two hours, and now a thrice-weekly service launched from Singapore in November.

Work has started on the third international airport, on the middle island of Miyako, which involves the adaptation of an existing aerodrome and is expected to be ready in spring 2019. Also a new runway is being built at the islands’ main gateway airport at Naha, due to open in 2020.

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