Okinawan personnel interacting with foreign tourists note language barrier as greatest challenge

March 24, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The Okinawa Prefectural Government and Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau concluded an investigative report on March 23 of personnel interacting with the tourist industry regarding their reception of foreign tourists during 2015. This is the first time the report has been conducted in two years, the last time being 2013. In 2015, 60.4 percent of business people, an 11.6 percentage point increase from two years prior, felt there was an increase in the number of foreign tourists to Okinawa. The percentage of personnel who try to draw in foreign customers has remained about the same at 37.6 percent. However, more personnel than before seem to be troubled by foreigners’ social etiquette.

Challenges of dealing with foreign tourists (percent of respondents)

Challenges of dealing with foreign tourists (percent of respondents)

Out of the advantages of dealing with foreign tourists, personnel most recognized the potential for expanding into new markets, at 48.1 percent of respondents to the questionnaire. The next most noted advantage is foreign tourists’ presence during the off-season for domestic tourism at 21 percent. Third most noticed is foreigners’ likelihood to binge shop and buy highly priced items at 19 percent.

Advantages of dealing with foreign tourists (percent of respondents)

Advantages of dealing with foreign tourists (percent of respondents)


The most recognized challenge of dealing with foreign tourists, continuing to be the most recognized since the 2013 report, is personnel’s inability to interact in a foreign language at 67.4 percent of respondents to the questionnaire. Even more respondents than in 2013 made note of the challenge of foreign tourists’ etiquette at 48.5 percent, an 8.9 percentage point increase. The issue of etiquette bore the most striking rise in concern among personnel of all the challenges on the questionnaire since 2013. The sort of recorded etiquette troubles personnel experienced are foreign tourists talking in a loud voice inside shops, drinking merchandise in front of the cash register at the time of purchase, and bad vehicle operation habits such as illegal parking.

This study has brought to attention important items for improving the situation such as providing foreign language training to current employees, hiring employees with foreign language ability, and drawing up manuals to assist in cases of medical emergency or general urgency when cross-cultural communication may prove difficult.

The 2015 report was compiled between January 25 and February 12 this year. Questionnaires were distributed to 2342 businesses including lodging facilities and restaurants, with 948 answered and collected at a 40.5 percent response rate.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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