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Tourism focus shifting for Some Okinawa businesses

Date Posted: 2004-08-20

Business leaders across Okinawa think the economy is in an upward swing, as evidenced by a tourism rise over the past two years.

More than five million tourists visited Okinawa in 2003, and that excites businesses.

It is also a concern to some businesses, mainly in the island’s southern region. They are losing much of the tourism market share they once comfortably held. Until the G-8 Summit in 2000, and the 2002 opening of the new Churaumi Acquarium, tourists scattered across most of the island.

Now, say business leaders in the south, their primary attractions aren’t enough. The Battle of Okinawa war sites, Gyokusendo cave and theme park, glass factories and the local beaches aren’t attracting the customers they once did.

Okinawa’s Convention Bureau is working with businesses to figure out what the problems are, and how to solve them. To help, they conducted a conference on tourism, which has the full attention of the Association of Southern Okinawa Sightseeing.The association is comprised of 13 tourism facilities and companies operating south of Naha.

Chairman Nobutaka Taira asks the question, then answers: “Why don’t we have individual tourists? We need some main menu for tourists, because now almost all tourists go north, where they have the acquarium, beautiful beaches, resort hotels and nature.”Taira acknowledges his group has its work cut out for it. “We need to show the tourists what we have,” he says. “We have traditional cultures, and anyone can have an great experience. We need to create a new image.”

The new association, created only in February, recognizes the need for business mindset changes. Car rental companies and the prefecture cooperated to assist in making change.

“Until last year,” chairman Nobutaka says, “we only did promotion as individual companies. Not together. Now we do cooperate and work together to begin getting the targets up. When we do that, the tourist numbers will go up too.”

Next month the Association is going to study Kudaka and Komaka Islands to see what can be done to attract tourists to those locations. Southern Okinawa has few resort hotels and natural green forests, natural hiking courses, beaches, etc., so the view is different, Nobutaka notes.

The fledgling organization is also asking for public feedback, especially from foreigners. They’d like to know what people like, and are interested in. They also want to know opinions on what would make sightseeing on Okinawa a more pleasant experience.

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