With the aim of attracting more foreign visitors to this country and helping revitalize local economies, the government on Wednesday launched the Japan Tourism Agency.

The new body is tasked with playing a key role in the government’s plan to build a nation that can thrive on its tourism, in which tourists would help to generate a vibrant source of growth.

The agency–the first government ministry-affiliated body to be established since the Financial Services Agency was established in 2000–was created by upgrading the tourism division of the Construction and Transport Ministry, a division formerly headed by bureau chief-level officials.

It is hoped the agency will break down bureaucratic sectionalism and attract more foreign visitors.

Construction and Transport Minister Kazuyoshi Kaneko on Tuesday appointed Yoshiaki Honpo, 59, head of the ministry’s tourism policy, as the agency’s first director general.

The government believes that pushing tourism is a highly effective way to boost local economies, as tourism creates jobs and increases consumption. The government has set a goal of attracting 20 million tourists in 2020, compared with 8.35 million in 2007.

However, many issues must be addressed if this goal is to be achieved. In 2006, Japan ranked 30th in the world in terms of overseas visitors, and seventh in Asia.

One issue that must be tackled is improvements to the system for accepting visitors from abroad, such as by smoothing accessibility via less stringent screening procedures for visa applications. However, this could bring the agency into conflict with the National Police Agency and the Justice Ministry.