Routes Asia touches down for the first time in Japan

Okinawa is Japan’s subtropical paradise, surrounded by crystal clear sea and beautiful natural landscapes. With its unique historical and cultural background, it is one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations and a perfect backdrop to air service development discussions that will be taking place at this year’s Routes Asia.

“Hosting Routes Asia 2017 in Okinawa will provide an excellent opportunity for attendees to discover the outstanding access to Okinawa from Japanese cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka, as well as other Asian cities, such as Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Bangkok,” said Takeshi Onaga, Governor of Okinawa Prefecture, in an interview ahead of this year’s event.

Okinawa is a popular resort destination in Japan, but in recent years its level of recognition overseas has also grown rapidly — Okinawa Prefecture appeared in the New York Times ‘52 Places to Go in 2017’, and in April 2016, Iriomote Island of Okinawa Prefecture was the only Japanese island selected in the Top 10 Best Islands in Asia, in the TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards.

The destination is experiencing a tourism boom with over eight million people travelling to the prefecture every year to enjoy the subtropical climate, serene beaches, crystal clear sea, lush forests, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and unique culture. Okinawa’s Naha Airport has more than trebled its international flight capacity in the last three years from an average of eight to 23 a day. New links include Hangzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, Kaohsiung and Bangkok.

Hosting Routes Asia will give Okinawa the opportunity to showcase its many attractions to the aviation industry. “As the host of Routes Asia, Okinawa Prefecture is looking forward with great excitement to showing our guests around these beautiful islands. Okinawa is Japan’s southernmost island, and I am certain that our visitors will be fascinated by their experiences of Shuri Castle, which has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as by our crystal blue seas, beautiful sandy beaches, coral reefs, traditional dance performances, and delicious Okinawan cuisine,” added Governor Onaga.

The conference element of the event, the Strategy Summit, will give delegates the chance to hear from industry leaders, including many high profile speakers from the region. We have all seen the reports about the growth of the Asia Pacific region and how the axis of the global aviation sector is moving to the East. These discussions are dominated by the rising stars of the region such as China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, but thanks to enhanced international connectivity and trade, Japan remains one of the key aviation economies in the region.

Air travel has long been critical to Japan. It supports one million jobs and generates almost $83 billion in GDP, according to IATA data, so its growth and prosperity will play a critical role in the future economic security of the nation. Although issues remain with a flat wider economy, coupled with ongoing airspace obstacles, Japan’s airports and airlines are continuing to grow aggressively, aided by both passenger and regulatory trends.

Japan has become a more affordable tourist destination in recent years due to the emergence of low-cost carriers and the depreciation of the Japanese yen. Between 2011 and 2016 the number of overseas visitors surged from 6.2 million to over 24 million, while Japan’s international market capacity grew by 43 per cent to 52.5 million seats.

“This is the first year that Routes Asia will be held in Japan, so it’s an exciting landmark for us. The event will help Okinawa Prefecture to reach its target of 10 million tourists a year by 2021,” said Steven Small, brand director of Routes.

Visitor numbers into Japan are already around the 20 million target that the Japanese Government had set for 2020, the Tokyo Olympics year. Tokyo’s Haneda Airport remains one of the largest airports in the world by passenger demand and new slot availability has opened it up to new international flights, boosting connectivity.

The Japanese market was the first to see Boeing 787 Dreamliner operations and now both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA) are using the aircraft to deliver new routes that could not previously be served sustainably by older generation airliners. Looking ahead, the low-cost model has now broken down the legacy barriers in Japan and is on a clear growth trajectory, while the A380 will also arrive into Japanese airline service with ANA from 2019.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…