The number of foreign visitors to Japan plunged 58.3 percent in February, the largest on-year drop for any month in nearly nine years, dented by travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, government data showed Thursday.
An estimated 1.09 million foreigners visited Japan last month, down from 2.60 million a year earlier, after China banned all outbound group travel in late January. Chinese travelers accounted for 30 percent of all overseas visitors in 2019, the biggest among all countries and regions.
The drop in February was the fifth straight month of decline and the largest since April 2011 when the figure fell 62.5 percent after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan the previous month, causing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
The number of inbound tourists is set to see sharper drops in the coming months, as Japan recently tightened entry restrictions on people arriving from China, South Korea and Europe to curb COVID-19.
"The circumstance in March will be even more severe. We'll cooperate with other countries to expand the tourism market," Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Hiroshi Tabata said at a press conference.
The outlook is a setback for the Japanese government, which has aimed to boost the number of annual inbound visitors to 40 million by this year when the country hosts the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The number of foreign visitors rose 2.2 percent to a record 31.88 million last year.
The sharp drop in foreign tourists is also a significant blow to the retail, restaurant and other industries in Japan.
The Resona Research Institute estimates the virus outbreak is expected to cut spending by foreign travelers to Japan by 981.3 billion yen ($9 billion) from February to June.
According to the data from the Japan Tourism Agency, tourists from China dropped 87.9 percent from a year earlier to 87,200 visitors in February.
By country and region, Taiwan had the most travelers to Japan in February at 220,400, down 44.9 percent from a year earlier. South Korea had 143,900, down 79.9 percent, followed by 115,600 from Hong Kong, down 35.5 percent.
Meanwhile, visitors from Russia increased 19.6 percent to 6,700 from a year earlier, the strongest growth in the month. Those from the Philippines rose 12.9 percent at 39,700, followed by Australia, up 1.8 percent at 48,500. However, Australia banned its citizens from leaving the country this week and similar measures have been taken in countries including New Zealand and Malaysia.