TOKYO (majirox news) – Japan’s fight against the Fukushima nuclear disaster is extending to the tourism front, but recovering foreign traveler numbers is a slow process amid lingering fears over leaking radiation.
Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) said 358,000 foreign visitors came to Japan in May, a 50.4% drop compared with the same month in 2010, and the worst May since 2003, when tourist numbers fell due to the SARS outbreak.
But the figure represents something of a recovery, coming on top of April’s record 62.5%. year-on-year decrease in foreign tourists.
Japan had an unprecedented number of visitors from overseas in 2010, but the March 11 triple disasters greatly reduced foreign tourism (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis).
Although many countries have begun to lift travel advisories to the country, the inflow of tourists remain slow.
“Our business is still hurting a lot,” said Hiro Machida, who owns Nichibei Travel in Tokyo. “We thought it would gradually improve, but it’s lagging because of the nuclear situation.”
JTB aims to beef up the number of Chinese travelers, but it’s tough going. In May, there were about 47.8% fewer Mainland Chinese, 40.4% Taiwanese, 58.3% fewer South Koreans and 37.8% fewer American visitors, many of who are business travelers.
Japan’s government and tourist agencies are launching campaigns to bring them back. Hotels are offering special discount plans and marketing through major travel agencies. This resulted in a slight improvement of about 1,800 room reservations up to July, mainly visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The average occupancy rates at 19 major hotels in Tokyo plummeted to 40.5 percent in April, the lowest figure since tracking of comparable information began in 1991, according to the Nikkei.
But there still aren’t any Chinese tours coming to Japan, according to Jia-Liang Wang, Executive Travel in Tokyo.
“The Chinese government is discouraging travel agents from promoting Japan,” Wang said. “They are afraid of another earthquake or nuclear crisis.”
After the earthquake China sent about 15 charter flights to rescue Chinese who were living in Sendai in northeast Japan, noted Liang.
Chinese agents are promoting Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe and even the United States instead of Japan.
Chinese learn from the news and Internet that the Japanese government is covering up the exact measurements of radiation levels, he added. “Nobody knows because they can’t see or smell it.”
As Liang previously told Majirox News, “This strongly affects people, and why should they take any risks? Even the Japanese are worried about the current situation: they don’t want to eat or drink anything from the affected areas. There are about 6 prefectures in the Tohoku region.”
Additionally, for the Chinese, Tokyo is Japan. Even if the tour goes to Osaka or Okinawa, Tokyo has to be included or they won’t come.
When China’s prime minister came to Japan around May 22 for the three party talks (Japan, South Korea and China), JTB was extremely eager to get the Chinese to return to Japan, noted Liang. ”They had them eat strawberries and other foods to prove it was safe. But nothing changed, no Chinese groups came.”
But that isn’t discouraging Tadatoshi Mimaya, president of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). He’s hurrying off to China to lure Chinese travelers to visit Japan.
“It is urgent to get the Chinese back,” he said Friday in Tokyo. “Something has to be done about these numbers.”
JTB is planning to entice 10,000 Chinese to Japan with first year-on honeymoon tours and packages that will include visits to major attractions.
In mid-June Fumio Saito, the mayor of Nikko, will welcome a delegation of more than 200 people from Taiwan. They will tour Nikko and visit the nearby Kinugawa Hot Springs spa.
During Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi’s visit to China from May 22-25, he told officials and the tourism industry that Hokkaido was not affected by the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Then, ANA Sales Co. will bring 100 people from China at the end of June for business talks.
Nippon Travel Agency Co. talked in Beijing about healthcare services and tourism in Japan. They emphasized that the effects of the earthquake have no bearing on its tour packages.
The Internet is helping with public relations for the tourist industry as well. For example, Kinki Nippon Tourist Co and Toptour Corp are creating Web sites in English, Chinese and Korean providing information about Japan. JNTO continues to send out information through its Web site, Twitter, Facebook, IATA (International Air Transport Association), ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and press releases saying, “Japan is safe.”
Liang says the travel agencies will start promoting Japan in September for China’s October Foundation Day holiday. Then there’s the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays.