Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of the Airport’s Opening
Kansai International Airport–or “Kankū” in its familiar abbreviation–celebrated its twentieth anniversary on September 4. When the airport first opened, it mainly served domestic business customers and tourists. Nowadays, overseas tourists from Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan and elsewhere account for 40% of its international airline passengers. Twenty years have passed since the airport opened. Kankū had aimed to become the “hub airport of Asia,” but it has stepped up its presence to become a “gateway airport of Japan.”
“Inbound” is the Key Word
Kankū lagged behind its rival airports for a considerable period of time. Last year, however, a record high of nearly five million foreigners used the airport. Two years ago, Kankū successfully brought in one of the low-cost carriers (LLCs), Peach Aviation. Subsequently, the Chinese LCC Spring Japan decided to set up a base in Kankū. Given such successful strategies to introduce LCCs, Kankū has experienced a surge of inbound travelers from overseas, primarily Asian.
The strength of Kankū is its location. The choice of Kankū as a base allows proximity to not only Kyoto and Nara, which are Japan’s dominant tourist spots, but also Mount Kōya, which has received great attention as a World Cultural Heritage site, and Nanki Shirahama, which is a popular coastal scenic destination and hot-spring site. Kankū has successively developed its twentieth-anniversary collaborative projects with railway companies and travel agencies, trying to boost the number of tourists who utilize the airport.
From a Hub Airport to a Gateway Airport
The Japanese government has set a target of attracting 20 million tourists annually by 2020, the year when the Tokyo Olympics will be held. In addition to Narita Airport and Haneda Airport, the plan is to beef up Kankū’s function so that the increase in visitors can be accommodated. The Tokyo metropolitan area will not be big enough to receive 20 million overseas visitors on its own. Kankū will therefore assume an important role, as it is approximately an hour closer from Asian countries than Narita and Haneda are.
Kankū has seized its opportunity to emerge. By absorbing the remarkable growth in travelers and cargo from Asia (in comparison to Europe or the United States), Kankū will enhance its value, transitioning from a hub airport to a gateway airport. Leveraging its 20 years of experience, Kansai International Airport will continue to thrive.
The key is to bring in travelers from Asia.