Japanese tourists visit the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. Image: Flickr user starleigh.

Frequent Flyer Miles: Tourism Between the United States and Japan to Benefit from New Flight Routes


In May 2014, more than 80,000 U.S. tourists traveled to Japan, an 8.6% increase from the same time last year. So far, every month in 2014 is up at least 7% , compared to the same period in 2013; in April 2014 alone, tourism rose an astonishing 22%. This is made even more significant when considering that U.S. tourism to Japan in 2013 was 11.6% greater than in 2012. Tourism from Japan to the US was also strong in 2013, with over 3.7 million Japanese citizens visiting. It is predicted that over the next 4 years the number of Japanese tourists coming to the United States will increase annually by 1% to include 190,000 additional visitors.

US tourism to Japan has surpassed the level it was at even before the Fukushima disaster brought the numbers down.

Making this all possible is a string of new flights opening up between U.S. and Japanese airports. In March, United Airlines announced its second daily flight between Houston, Texas and Tokyo’s Narita airport. Not only does that new flight option double United’s capacity on the Houston-Tokyo route, but also connects more passengers from Texas to other Asia-Pacific destinations via United and Star Alliance flights to Seoul, Singapore, and at least 20 other destinations.

The number of Japanese tourists coming to the US has also risen substantially compared to recent years.

Similarly, in February, United got tentative permission from the Department of Transportation to begin a flight between San Francisco and Japan’s Haneda airport. According to the terms laid out in the open-skies accord between Japan and the United States, this flight would join three other daily round-trip flights to Haneda. The other three are from Honolulu by Hawai’ian Airlines, and from Los Angeles and Seattle, both operated by Delta Air Lines. The addition of United’s new flight, that airline's first to Haneda, increases San Francisco’s role as a critical hub for travel into and out of the United States. United offers the most domestic U.S. connections from San Francisco of any airline, with roughly 4,300 weekly departures. Furthermore, United’s Star Alliance joint venture with Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) will be strengthened as the addition of a new North American transpacific hub will give ANA more connection opportunities in its own right, as well as connections for United customers to ANA flights around Asia. The new flight routes and connections will create more capacity for tourist travel, supporting the growing number of Americans going to Japan and Japanese coming to the US. The new flight between San Francisco and Haneda is expected to begin operation on October 26th, 2014.

Sarah Batiuk is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, DC.