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Officials smiling over latest tourism numbers

Date Posted: 2005-10-28

Nearly five million tourists visited Okinawa in 2004, and that has the Naha City Economic Tourism Section sporting big smiles.

Not only did 4,820,000 visitors come to Okinawa, but two thirds of them were on repeat visits. Interviews with tourists showed that 34.3% of the visitors were making their fourth visit or more, while another 17% were here for a second trip. The other third interviewed said the 2004 visit was their first to the island.

Five reasons were given on why Okinawa is a tourist hot spot. The beautiful skies and white beaches were the top reason listed, followed by warm weather and praise for the local people. The varied cultures blending within Okinawa drew praise, as did the healthy foods. Visitors also cited the inexpensive nature of an Okinawa visit as a great reason to come.

Once here, Kokusai Dori, the International Street, was the top attention getter, with 82% of visitors making the trek there first. Shuri Castle was the number two sightseeing spot for 60% of the island guests, while Heiwadori attracted 42% of the Okinawa visitors.

Repeat visitors did give officials some food for thought, complaining there’s a shortage of things to do on Okinawa. Once the basic tourist sightseeing spots have been taken in, and the shopping done, there’s little to do. “Okinawa needs a more varied tourism menu,” said one visitor. “After four times there is nothing more to go to or to do, so we get tired. You should find some new things.”

One being bantered about is increased promotion of the prefecture’s diving opportunities, camping and leisure time activities. Casinos planned for the future will also be a boon to visitors.

Other complaints from travelers were not enough traffic signs, particularly in English, and difficulty interpreting and understanding existing signs. The visitors also complained of need for shuttle busses to take tourists from hotels to shopping areas, restaurants, theaters and sightseeing locations.

The Prefecture government acknowledges the need for beefing up services. They know tourists who aren’t happy won’t return, and are working with developers to bring new night spots to tourists. The casinos are a start, they say, and the need for Tokyo or Las Vegas type floor shows with dancers, nighttime international food courts and a functional public transportation system will all help.

Parent Teacher Associations are opposing the plans for new programs. They argue “it’s not good for children to have old fashion style living and new styles conflicting. Okinawa needs to be consistent, they say, keeping it different than other prefectures.

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