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Japan Tourism Agency looks to introduce 'exit tax'

Foreign tourists set to depart Japan are seen inside Terminal 2 of Kansai International Airport on July 31, 2017. (Mainichi)

The Japan Tourism Agency is considering the introduction of an "exit tax" on people leaving the country in order to raise funds for tourism promotion overseas, it has been learned.

    The new idea has surfaced as a possible way to secure funds for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration's goal of making Japan a "tourism-oriented country." However, there are several challenges such as collection methods, as well as concerns that the policy might have a negative effect on the increasing numbers of tourists visiting Japan.

    At a press conference on July 19, Commissioner Akihiko Tamura of the Japan Tourism Agency made it clear that the agency is considering taxing those leaving the country. "Currently, we are studying the concept by looking into cases in other countries," Tamura explained.

    In May, the government drew up a tourism-related program calling for looking into measures to secure funds needed for the country's tourism policies. Consequently, the Japan Tourism Agency is now considering concrete methods for collecting funds, including whether or not to tax Japanese people when they exit the country.

    In 2016, the number of foreigners who visited Japan reached about 24 million, while that of Japanese people who departed the country was some 17 million. Therefore, if an "exit tax" of 1,000 yen per person had been collected from all these people during 2016, 40 billion yen could have been raised.

    These funds could help increase Japan's inbound tourism promotion overseas, and improve systems for immigration control.

    With regard to promoting tourism to Japan, one of the current challenges is trying to encourage visitors to tour regional parts of Japan, in addition to the main tourist destinations of Tokyo and Kyoto. The government recognizes the economic benefits of increasing foreign traveler numbers to regional parts of Japan, and is therefore keen to boost promotional efforts to that effect.

    However, there are also a number of issues such as the fact that an exit tax cannot be easily added onto cruise tickets (although it can be added for plane tickets). In addition, some Japanese people might be unable to see the benefits of such a tax system, and for foreigners, it might make a trip to Japan seem even more expensive.

    Nevertheless, numerous countries in Europe collect an exit tax through plane tickets, and South Korea taxes people leaving the country, regardless of whether the departure is through an airport or a port. In addition, in the U.S., a $14 tax is collected from visitors of countries that are participating in the Visa Waiver Program, through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

    Looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the government is hoping that 40 million people will visit Japan that year. The Japan Tourism Agency says, "In order to achieve this goal, we need even more effective policies than before" -- explaining that it hopes to introduce the new system in fiscal 2018, after referring first to similar tax systems overseas.

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