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Travel

Foreign briefing: Japan tries to bring back tourism after it plummets

1. Japan

Zensuke Suzuki, the chief official at the Japan Tourism Agency, has put in long hours since the March 11 magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, leaving 24,000 dead or missing and prompting worries about the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

“Basically, what we’re seeing is travelers worried about visiting Japan because they don’t think it’s safe,” Suzuki said.

As a result, Japan has been reeling from a huge drop in tourists. The Japan National Tourism Organization reported a 62.5% decline in foreign visitors in April compared with the same period last year.

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To address the downturn, Suzuki has been asking foreign media, including travel writers, to visit Japan as guests. (Many media, including the Los Angeles Times, do not allow writers to participate in such trips.)

But, Suzuki said of the journalists’ experiences, “We would ask them to report about what they see.”

Members of the travel industry are also invited. “Many travel agencies aren’t offering Japan packages to their customers,” Suzuki said. “We want these people to view for themselves that things are fine here.”

This year, Japan plans to spend about $6.2 million on promotion and advertising to salvage its image, a fund originally earmarked to boost Japan’s tourism.

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“Destinations such as Okinawa and Hokkaido, far away from Fukushima, have also been suffering from less business,” said Hiroshi Uyama, overseas marketing and promotion director at Japan’s tourism organization.

Oriental Land Co., the operator of the two Tokyo Disney theme parks, plans for the first time to offer discounted tickets this summer to children and students.

“We’ve offered student discounts during the low season but never in the summer and we didn’t offer the discount to guests living overseas,” said Hiroshi Suzuki, management associate at Oriental Land. “Park attendance has been somewhat lower compared to past years after the quake.”

One-day park passports for children 4 to 11 will be sold for about $25 instead of about $51 from July 8-Aug. 31.

Hotels and airlines have been offering cut-rate Japan deals. Zuji, Travelocity’s Hong Kong subsidiary, promotes Japan packages of two days/three nights or three nights/four days starting at $172.

Such efforts seem to be paying off. “Since May, tourists from Asia are slowly starting to return,” Uyama said.

—Yuriko Nagano

2. Brazil

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Vila Mimosa, Rio de Janeiro’s bustling working-class prostitution zone, could be torn down as Rio revamps crumbling infrastructure and polishes its image for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. A 317-mile high-speed train that would link Rio to São Paulo, the country’s financial capital, would pass through the neighborhood if current plans move forward. Bidding in the $22-billion project is expected to open July 29. Prostitution is legal in Brazil.

—Reuters

3. Greece

Financially troubled Greece benefited from Middle East unrest as cruise ship passengers arrivals rose 58.1% in the first quarter, partly as a result of fears about stability in the Middle East. Experts also credited Europe’s economic recovery for the surge. Tourism accounts for 16% of Greece’s gross domestic product and employs about 20% of the country’s 4.26 million-person workforce.

—Reuters

4. India

India is witnessing a rise in contemporary music festivals, and some travel companies are seeking to lure music fans with the comparatively bargain ticket prices. The central Himalayan town of Naukuchiatal, for instance, hosted Escape, one of the nation’s emergent music festivals. Around 30 established and newer Indian artists performed against a sweeping mountain backdrop in May, the festival’s third year. At the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in December in the southern city of Pune, some of India’s biggest bands played, and the presence of international performers helped sell thousands of tickets and cemented the festival as one of the country’s biggest.

—Reuters

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5. Amsterdam

The Dutch government Friday has said it would start banning tourists from buying cannabis from “coffee shops” and impose restrictions on Dutch customers by year’s end. The Netherlands has one of Europe’s most liberal soft-drug policies, which has made its cannabis shops a popular tourist attraction, particularly in Amsterdam, home to about 220 coffee shops. Some officials have resisted the measures, saying the restrictions could push the trade underground.

—Reuters

6. New Zealand

The Hotel Grand Chancellor, a 27-story building in Christchurch that was heavily damaged in the Feb. 22 earthquake, will be demolished, news reports and its website are reporting. The onetime office building and parking garage shifted about 3 feet as a result of the 6.3-magnitude quake that occurred less than less than six months after a magnitude 7.1 quake near the city.

—Staff and wire reports


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