Japan still hot for key international markets

JAPAN’s international arrivals have recovered to near pre-disaster levels, with inbound numbers from the three key markets of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong showing signs of resurgent demand.

Overall, arrivals to Japan in January were down by 4.1 per cent year-on-year, according to the latest figures provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization. Japan received some 138,400 Chinese visitors during this time, a 39.6 per cent jump over the same period last year. Inbound numbers from Taiwan and Hong Kong increased by 29.6 per cent and 40.9 per cent, respectively.

However, other source markets remain weak, especially the country’s top market, South Korea—down by 35.4 per cent compared to January 2011. Volume from Australia, the UK, France, Germany and Russia remains fragile as well.

One of the areas worst hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Sendai, is showing faint signs of a protracted recovery.

Speaking to TTG Asia e-Daily during the Visit Japan Travel Trade Meet in Singapore, Hiroki Ichikawa, officer, international economy and tourism department, city of Sendai, Economic Affairs Bureau said: “Even though overall foreign arrivals (to Sendai) are still down by about 80 per cent as of January compared to last year, visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan are trickling in, and domestic tourism, which remains relatively strong, continues to prop our tourism industry.”

Ichikawa added that the China market to Sendai should improve once flights operated by Air China from Shanghai, Beijing and Dalian to Sendai Airport – which were suspended immediately after the tragedy – are restored in March.

According to Sam How, general manager, Asia-Euro Holidays Singapore, besides fear over radiation fallout, the lingering perception of Japan as an expensive destination was a damper on demand.

“However, with airfares being slashed and numerous offers on the table, Japan is now more affordable than ever,” he said. “Subsequently, those who never considered Japan before will be enticed to visit. This is Japan’s golden window of opportunity.”

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