British Columbia pins tourism hopes on Japanese emperors visit


Japan’s Emperor Akihito waves to the crowd outside the Vancouver Japanese school Sunday after visiting the school during the Vancouver leg of his visit.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, Canwest News Service
After more than a decade of declining tourism from Japan, the visit of its Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko last week could well provide a much-needed boost to B.C.’s tourism industry.

Paul Vallee, Tourism Vancouver’s executive vice-president, said the immensely popular monarchs could encourage Japanese visitors — once a dominant source of tourism for B.C. — to return.

“The Japanese market has long been a declining market since the mid-90s, for a whole host of reasons,” said Vallee. “Whether it was the banking crisis in Asia in the ’90s to the fluctuating exchange rate, it’s a market that has lost a lot of its value to B.C. With something like this, it’s very helpful. As we know, the emperor and empress are looked upon very favourably.”

In 2008, Vancouver hosted 140,000 Japanese visitors, a fraction of the 8.6 million total visitors to the city.

Japan’s 75-year-old emperor and his 74-year-old wife arrived in Vancouver Friday, following a seven-day tour of Ottawa and Toronto.

The goodwill visit marked the 80th anniversary of the establishment of Canada’s first diplomatic mission in Japan.

Naoto Horita, who sits on the board of directors of Nikkei Place in Burnaby, agreed the much-publicized visit could help alleviate Japanese travel fears about Canada.

Horita noted that Japanese tourists cancelled trips to B.C. in the wake of news that three Japanese citizens who travelled to Ontario in May became the first confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu virus in Japan upon their return home.

The emperor and empress, who rarely travel outside their country, were followed to Canada by an entourage of more than 40 Japanese journalists, filing stories after each event.

The royals visited Vancouver and Victoria over the weekend and will leave for the U.S. on Tuesday.

The public appearances included a walkabout at Government House in Victoria, an appearance outside the Parliament Buildings followed by a visit to the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall, in the 400-block Alexander Street.