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Travel & Holiday

Demand for Japan travel picking up

Tour prices almost back to pre-crisis levels, say agencies
The Straits Times - August 8, 2011
By: Jessica Lim
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Demand for Japan travel picking up Ninja Yokoho (right), a performer, lurking by the Japan booth at the Chan Brothers Monster Travel Fair at Suntec Singapore yesterday. -- PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR FOR ST

JAPAN is once again becoming a popular tourist destination among Singaporeans, five months after it was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Holiday-makers had stayed away after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was damaged in the disaster, raising fears of radioactive contamination.

But major travel agents said demand for travel to Japan is picking up. The prices of tours are returning to close to pre-crisis levels and sales are expected to return to normal by December.

When the double tragedy struck in March, many travellers rushed to cancel their bookings to Japan, or switch them to other destinations.

CTC Travel's demand was so bad that it had zero new bookings in March and April. But now, its Japan bookings have recovered by 70 per cent, said spokesman Alicia Seah, adding that travel to Hokkaido has bounced back the quickest. 'We see pent-up demand, and by the year end we will have totally recovered.'

Hong Thai Travel said the disaster brought travel to Japan to a 'total standstill', but it started to recover slowly from May. Last month, it sold only 20 per cent fewer packages than in the same period last year, when about 1,000 people booked Japan tours.

In the past month, it had an average of 20 bookings a day for year-end tours to Japan. 'We are very optimistic about a total recovery,' said its senior manager Stella Chow.

At Chan Brothers Travel, Japan bookings have recovered by 80 per cent. Sales of packages to Japan were brisk at its day-long Chan Brothers Monster Travel Fair yesterday.

The managing director of Fascinating Holidays puts the recovery down to pent-up demand and abating fear.

'Singaporeans are starting to realise there is nothing to fear, and their friends who have returned tell them their tours were a success,' said Mr David Teo, who receives 15 inquiries a week on year-end travel to Japan.

Prices are also rising - another sign of increased demand. At Hong Thai Travel, for instance, a seven-day tour to Hokkaido now costs $1,599, up from $1,399 in May. Before the crisis, it was $2,299. At Fascinating Holidays, a five-day tour to Tokyo now costs $1,288, up from $1,088 in April. A similar tour went for $1,788 before the crisis.

The Japan National Tourism Organisation, a government body with an office here to promote travel to Japan, is also optimistic. Its spokesman Susan Ong said a full recovery is expected by December, adding that 9,000 Singaporeans visited Japan last month, a surge from 2,400 in April.

The numbers are expected to rise further after the Japanese government intervened last Thursday to weaken the yen, which had been near its post-war high against the dollar in recent weeks.

'The attractive low yen rate will boost traffic to Japan,' said Ms Ong. 'Airfares will be cheaper and the exchange rate will be lower. What more can Singaporeans ask for to visit Japan?'

Madam Tan Chay Noh, 59, a civil servant who will travel to Hokkaido later this month, has wanted to visit Japan for the past decade. 'It was so expensive and I kept holding it off. If I don't go now, prices will go up again.'



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