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Travel & Holiday

Cheap fares, slashed rates as Japan goes all-out to revive tourism

Despite discounted rates all over Japan, their service maintains its high standards
The Straits Times - June 21, 2011
By: Kwan Weng Kin
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Cheap fares, slashed rates as Japan goes all-out to revive tourism Straits Times

TOKYO: From slashing ticket prices at Tokyo Disneyland to recruiting student ambassadors, Japan is pulling out all the stops to revive its tourism industry after the second straight month of bleeding in the sector.

Foreign tourist arrivals fell 50.4 per cent in May year-on-year, following a 62.5 per cent drop in April, after northern Japan was hit by a massive quake and tsunami on March 11.

Fear of radiation from a quake-stricken nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, located about 230km north of Tokyo, has also kept many foreigners away.

Officials are working hard to allay tourists' fears, such as whether it is safe to eat Japanese raw fish, and hopefully bring back visitors from China, South Korea and Taiwan, which make up the bulk of foreign travellers to Japan.

'Radiation levels in Tokyo are similar to those in Seoul and Beijing now. Japan is safe,' Tourism Minister Akihiro Ohata said at a media conference in South Korea last month, which was attended by his Chinese and Korean counterparts.

Before the earthquake on March 11, Chinese tourists to Japan were the biggest spenders among foreigners.

Even localities far away from the stricken nuclear plant have been hit by radiation rumours.

Gifu prefecture, tucked away in central Japan, earlier invited journalists and travel agents from Singapore and other South-east Asian countries in the hope they would tell their people back home that Japan is still a safe and attractive tourist destination.

Japanese tourism officials have also enlisted the help of about 1,100 foreign students in Japan, inviting them to revisit well-known tourist attractions in the ancient capital of Kyoto and other Japanese cities, and to tweet and blog about their travels in their native language.

Theme parks are also offering discounts. Children will be able to get into Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea resorts, just outside Tokyo, from July 8 to Aug 31 at half-price.

One Shanghai tour agency has been promoting a five-day, four-night package to Japan for just 45,000 yen (S$695), or some 40 per cent below pre-disaster prices.

Thanks to the cheap packages, foreign tourists have begun trickling back into this country since the beginning of this month, tourism officials said.

Singaporeans have also benefited from cheaper hotel rates and airfares. There are also fewer crowds to contend with at popular attractions.

Said Singaporean Edmund Song, who was visiting Tokyo last week with his wife: 'There seem to be very, very few tourists. Most of the places we visited were fairly quiet.'

Despite discounted rates, Japan's justly famous hospitality remains unchanged.

'We enjoyed our stay very much - the courtesy of the Japanese people, the orderly queues, the superb service when we did our shopping, the willingness of everyone we met to give us directions,' said another Singaporean tourist, Mr Tan Yew Meng. 'We will definitely be back sooner rather than later.'

Although Japanese officials say tourist arrivals are going up again this month, it could be some time before things return to normal for the industry.

In quake-hit northern Japan, tourist-related businesses fear the government's decision to scrap a flat highway toll of 1,000 yen on weekends and public holidays will hurt domestic tourism.

From today, regular distance-based tolls apply on weekends and public holidays as well, which may deter motorists from driving to the north, well known for its hot springs and traditional summer festivals.

Japan Tourism Agency chief Hiroshi Mizohata told reporters last week: 'It took four years for tourism (in America) to recover after 9/11. We don't know how long it will take Japan.'

Tourist arrivals in Japan reached a record 8.6 million last year. The government says it intends to raise the figure to 25 million by 2019.



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