Author: Stephane Beaulieu (Tokyo, Japan)
Japan’s airport privatization process is well under way with concessions for the most attractive assets having already been allocated or are at an advanced stage in the process. While to some, this initiative is just a way for the government to replenish its coffer, transfer the responsibility for the maintenance to third parties and leverage the private sector knowhow to make these assets more profitable, the backdrop for this initiative is much more complex, being closely linked to fundamental issues having to do with the country’s demographics and industries.
Japan is struggling with a critical aging and depopulation problem that is most pronounced in the regions. The main three urban areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya while also affected by this phenomenon are better off as they are still welcoming many young Japanese looking for work opportunities that are no longer available in their home regions. Revitalizing the regions is thus an important part of the greater strategy that features the privatization of regional airports as the gateways to bring in an increasing number of inbound tourists and related jobs.
With the Rugby World Cup and Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, and an ambitious agenda to leverage these major events to increase inbound tourism, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLITT) aviation policy for fiscal 2019 calls for strengthening not only the metropolitan area airports but also the gateway function of regional airports with the goal of servicing 40 million foreign tourists by 2020 and 60 million by 2030.