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Japanese tourism’s post earthquake recovery

Japanese tourism’s post earthquake recovery
November 6, 2011

With tourism revenue in Japan falling by a third since the 11th March earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese Government is looking at ways of attracting visitors back.

The 11th March earthquake that hit northern Japan was one of the most powerful earthquake since records began. The quake and subsequent tsunami led to almost 16,000 deaths. Nearly 5,000 people are still missing.

With the human tragedy came an economic problem, with tourism dropping sharply.

In April 2011, tourism numbers fell by over 60% compared to the year before. They are yet to recover to pre-tsunami levels, despite a new 12.1 trillion yen ($157 billion) budget for the reconstruction.

The disaster even had a significant knock-on effect in other countries, with fewer Japanese tourists travelling abroad.

In the weeks after the tsunami, Kasikorn Research Centre predicted $1 billion of Thailand's tourism revenue would be lost because of the situation in Japan.

However, eight months on, life in Japan's capital seems back on track.

Construction on the Tokyo Sky Tree is proceeding - when it is finished in May 2012, it will be the tallest broadcast tower in the world and the second tallest building, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Sky Tree architect Shigeru Yoshino explains "the tower was hardly damaged at all as a result of the earthquake.

"In the aftermath, the tower showed the flag of Japan and was an encouragement."

But even now, some tourism boards are still a little reluctant to recommend Japan as a holiday destination.

Around 1.5bn yen ($18 million) has been set aside by the Government to dispel "harmful rumours" about the current situation and radiation risks.

The Japan National Tourist Organisation predicts that tourism revenues will be a third lower in 2011 than they were in 2010, a significant problem for a country targeting tourism as a growth industry so aggressively.

The Government has a road map, devised before the tsunami, towards reaching 25 million international visitors each year by 2019.

Masato Takamatsu of Japan Tourism Marketing Co. states "the Government let people know (about Japan) via social networks like Twitter and Facebook, because there are many countries that had very strict travel advice to their citizens without accurately knowing the situation in Japan.

"I think those efforts have worked very well and the international community knows that Japan is well prepared to invite people again."

A significant issue for Japan's tourism plans could be the strength of its currency.

The uncertainty about the global economy has led to large investments in the Yen - traditionally seen as a safe-bet - and meant it has reached record highs.

This means that those travelling to Japan generally have to pay more for flights and accommodation and, for a country not traditionally seen as a cheap option, could cause more visitors to stay away.

Japan has so far been reluctant to offer financial incentives to tourists. Thailand, for example, offered free insurance cover and a waiver on all visa fees in the wake of the 2010 protests.

Instead, the Japanese Government has embarked on a public relations campaign.

According to residents, Tokyo is back running as normal after the tsunami

It presented Lady Gaga with a letter of thanks after she visited the country for an MTV Video Music Aid event at which she said everyone should visit the "beautiful place" of Japan.

And the likes of US fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and French singer and actress Jane Birkin have given their top travel tips for the book The Travel Guide to Aid Japan.

Travel journalist Chieko Chiba states "I think when opinion leaders make a statement that Japan is safe, a lot of the people will feel the same way.

"However these efforts are more of a temporary thing and I think more ground work and a grassroots effort needs to be continued."

One thing that has recovered is Japanese tourists travelling ove 

And the likes of US fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and French singer and actress Jane Birkin have given their top travel tips for the book The Travel Guide to Aid Japan.

The numbers travelling are expected to be almost identical to one year ago and rose year-on-year by 9% in August, according to official figures.

It seems that while the international travelling community is not quite ready to re-embrace Japan, the Japanese people themselves have adopted a "back to normal" sentiment.

And tourism does have a natural ebb and flow going back further than the tragedy in March.

In 2009, the global economic slowdown and worries about the spread of influenza led to tourism falling throughout that year.

The Japanese are just hoping that, while tourism is not quite back to normal yet, it is just a matter of time before it is.

Images: Tokjo Disney Sea (top), Tokyo (middle) and Mt Fuji (below).






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