March 19, 2020 / 7:18 AM / 21 days ago

Foreign visitors to Japan plunge 58% in Feb on coronavirus

Passersby are seen on a street in Yokohama’s China Town in Yokohama, Japan February 18, 2020. Picture taken February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Daniel Leussink/Files

TOKYO (Reuters) - The number of foreign visitors to Japan plunged 58% in February from a year earlier, government data showed on Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic takes a heavy toll of the tourism industry.

Total foreign arrivals, including those for tourism and business, declined to 1.09 million from 2.60 million in the corresponding month last year, the Japan National Tourism Organization said. It was the fifth straight month of declines.

“With the impact of the new coronavirus, demand for overseas travel in many markets including Japan has been curbed,” the agency said in a statement. “We will promote travel to Japan while closely monitoring future market trends.”

Tourism has emerged as a key driver for Japan’s retail and hospitality industries in recent years as they try to offset weak domestic consumption by an ageing and shrinking population.

But the virus outbreak has fanned concern that Japan has become over-reliant on tourism, and could make it hard to reach a government target of 40 million visitors this year, up from 31.9 million last year and double those of five years ago.

Arrivals from China, normally the biggest source of tourists to Japan, sank 88% last month, the data showed, after it halted all tour groups to other countries over the virus.

Arrivals from South Korea plummeted 80%. Apart from the virus, South Korea has been boycotting Japanese goods and services since a trade dispute erupted between the neighbours last year.

Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Chris Gallagher; Writing by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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