Japan's tourism industry fights back

Japan's tourism authorities and travel companies with operations here have swung into action in a bid to save the summer season with a series of campaigns and eye-catching offers.

One of the most remarkable offers comes from Hong Kong-based travel agency EGL Tours, which has defied concerns over the likelihood of further earthquakes by offering its customers a full refund of the cost of their holiday if a tremor with a magnitude of 6 or larger occurs during their trip.

That may be a bold gamble by the company as there have been well over 1,000 aftershocks since the March 11 magnitude earthquake, which triggered a devastating tsunami and seriously damaged the Fukushima Dai-ich nuclear plant.

Of that total, 56 have been magnitude 6 or above - an average of well over one a day - although they appear to have been tailing off recently. Still, the move underlines the industry's desire to have foreign visitors returning to Japan.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organisation, just short of 353,000 foreign visitors arrived in Japan in March, about half the figure of the same month the previous year, with the sharpest year-on-year drop among tourists from Hong Kong, which saw a decline of 61 percent.

The images of destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami have clearly damaged travelers' perceptions of Japan as a safe destination, with that situation worsened by the ongoing nuclear crisis.

Inevitably, efforts by tourism authorities here to attract 11 million visitors in 2011 will fall well short of that total.

Nevertheless, the industry is doing what it can to improve the nation's image as a holiday destination.

They have been quick to point out that bullet train services on routes to northern Japan are expected to be fully operational by April 30, that the Disneyland and DisneySea theme parks to the east of Tokyo are again welcoming visitors, and Edo Wonderland, in the historical mountain town of Nikko, reopened its gates on April 18.

The Japan Association of Travel Agents has also launched a new campaign, vowing to "communicate the recovery process of Japan, both within the country and abroad."

The association has chosen the motto "Cheer Up Japan - Smile Up with Travel" to promote the campaign. It has also confirmed that the JATA Travel Showcase, the largest travel-industry event in Asia, will go ahead as scheduled from September 29 to October 2 at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center.

For further information on travel in Japan, visit: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/

JR

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