QANTAS says growth in Japanese tourists will remain ''stagnant at worst, anaemic at best'' in coming years due to their travel tastes changing and a lack of investment in attractions for them in Australia.
The airline has highlighted the challenges faced in reversing a big drop in Japanese tourists over the past decade as part of a pitch to aviation authorities to allow its budget-offshoot, Jetstar, to continue a code-sharing alliance with Japan Airlines on flights between Australia and Japan until 2017.
In an application to the International Air Services Commission, Qantas has blamed the fall in Japanese tourists on a ''significant lack'' of investment in critical tourism infrastructure in Australia and their growing tendency to visit destinations closer to home and high-end holiday hot spots.
It cited figures from the federal government's Tourism Forecasting Committee that show that the number of tourists from Japan declined at an average annual rate of 6 per cent over the past decade. Through the next decade, the committee is forecasting annual average growth of just 1.6 per cent.
Qantas said the advent of budget airlines in Asia meant Australia was competing with a ''growing number of more accessible destinations''.
Japan has opened up its aviation market to foreign interests in recent years, which has allowed three new airlines including Qantas joint venture Jetstar Japan to fly on both domestic and regional routes.
Qantas said the Australia-Japan route had also been affected by natural disasters and the global financial crisis but pointed out that these were ''short-term in nature and serve only to exacerbate and highlight the changing underlying characteristics of the route''.
''The weakness of this route is of considerable concern. Over the past decade, the number of Japanese visitors travelling to Australia has almost halved,'' Qantas' executive manager of government relations, Tony Wheelens, said in the application to the IASC.
Qantas stopped direct flights between Perth and Tokyo in May last year due to high fuel prices and competition from other airlines. It also replaced Boeing 747 jumbos with smaller Airbus A330 planes on the Sydney-Tokyo route.
A year earlier, JAL ditched flights between Tokyo and Brisbane.
''Reflecting the difficult operating environment, load factors on the Australia-Japan route have remained stagnant and well within reasonable levels to cater for demand,'' Mr Wheelens said.
Qantas said the number of business travellers on the route had remained stagnant over the past three years.