(Adds direct quote, details on tourism)
* Abe’s govt has relaxed visa requirements for Asian countries
* Tourism boom is benefitting retailers
* Tourism is one of few bright spots in Abe’s reform agenda
By Stanley White
TOKYO, March 30 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set on Wednesday an ambitious target to double the number of foreign visitors and the amount of money they spend in the country by 2020 to breathe life into a flagging economy.
Since taking office in late 2012, Abe’s administration has relaxed visa requirements for several Asian countries, which has notably led to an influx of Chinese visitors. An ensuing boom in tourism has been one of the few bright spots of his structural reform agenda.
Abe is looking to reap further benefits from inbound tourism as Tokyo prepares to host the Olympics in 2020. Luring more tourists could also help ease concerns about consistently weak domestic consumption and Japan’s declining population.
“Today we have decided a new vision for tourism,” Abe said after a meeting with government ministers.
“Tourism is an important part of our economic growth strategy, of revitalising local economies and of our goal to raise gross domestic product to 600 trillion yen.”
Abe aims to attract 40 million visitors to Japan, which would be about twice as much as the number of tourists who entered Japan last year, a statement showed.
In 2015, tourists spent 3.5 trillion yen ($31.2 billion) in Japan, and Abe wants to more than double that amount to 8 trillion yen by 2020 by relaxing visa requirements further and improving flight access, the statement showed.
Abe will also try to promote more of the country’s national treasures and public parks to guests from overseas.
The government is also targeting 60 million visitors and 15 trillion yen in tourist spending by 2030, the statement showed.
The number of inbound tourists has been hitting record levels since the government began relaxing visa requirements. The benefit was initially seen at department stores in Tokyo, where Chinese tourists bought electronics and clothes in bulk to re-sell in their home country.
The boost to retail sales is now starting to spread to regional economies as more tourists visit temples and shrines in rural areas.