Hubs eyed for large cruise ships in Japan

TOKYO -- Japan's tourism ministry will develop six domestic ports, including Yokohama, as "international cruise hubs" in a bid to respond to the rapid increase in foreign tourists arriving by cruise ship.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry aims to work with cruise ship operating companies to make the ports easy to stop at. However, this will involve fiscal outlays, so particular effort must be made to ensure the plan's effectiveness.

Besides Yokohama Port, the envisioned international cruise hubs are Shimizu in Shizuoka city; Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture; Yatsushiro in Kumamoto Prefecture; and Motobu and Hirara, both in Okinawa Prefecture. Operating companies will be allowed preferential use of the ports, but they will also be asked to construct passenger terminal complexes where immigration procedures will be conducted for passengers.

The central and local governments will build quays where large-scale cruise ships can berth.

In Europe and the United States, taking a cruise ship is a perennial choice for long holidays, due to its relative affordability.

A cruise ship can carry a few hundred to a few thousand tourists at a time, so they have a significant effect on consumption in way port areas.

As a result, regional hopes to draw in cruise ships have increased year by year.

In 2016, a total of 1.99 million tourists came to Japan by cruise ship, nearly five times the level in 2014. But there are few facilities where large ships can berth or where customs and immigration procedures can be conducted. If there is no passenger terminal complex at a port, landing takes a long time because passengers must go through the disembarkation procedures on the cruise ship.

If equipped with a terminal complex, a hub port would be able to swiftly admit people. In the case of Yokohama Port, Yokohama-based NYK Cruises Co., which owns the cruise ship Asuka II, and Carnival Corp., a major U.S. cruise company, both are expected to join the plan.

The government aims to increase the number of tourists who arrive by cruise ship to 5 million by 2020, and to create international hubs in addition to the initial six ports. It will be necessary to examine how the hubs help increase the number of incoming tourists.