For Japan, a return to business as usual after disasters

Sapporo (pictured) XXX

As Japan picks up the pieces from two major natural disasters that struck the nation in the space of three days, it is now focused on getting the message that it is business as usual across to travellers who might have been planning to cancel their trips.

The strongest typhoon in 25 years lashed central Japan in the early part of last week, coming close to Osaka and causing damage to Kansai International Airport – the major international air hub for western Japan – as well as road and rail links.

It’s all well in Sapporo (pictured) as the cities quickly recover from the recent spate of natural disasters

The airport, which at one point was under 50cm of water, has resumed domestic flights and is expected to restart international routes very soon. The airport also had to close the bridge that linked the man-made island to the mainland after it was struck and damaged by a freighter. However, airlines have been able to re-route flights to other Japanese airports.

“The closure of the airport had an impact on foreign arrivals but we are back to normal with domestic travellers and people coming in to Osaka from other parts of Japan by rail and road,” said Hiroko Ao, sales manager for the Hilton Osaka.

“There is little damage in the city itself, but rural areas have been harder hit,” she said. “There have been landslides, roads have been cut and power has been knocked out in many smaller towns, but Osaka and the big cities are back to normal. The damage does not really affect tourists too much.”

Two days after the typhoon, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck Hokkaido, causing prefecture-wide blackouts and severing water supplies. Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport also had to be shut then, but it has since reopened.

“Nearly all tourist-related infrastructure has been completely restored at this point and are operating as normal,” Margery Weidman, a spokesperson for the city’s tourism department, told TTG Asia.

Some foreign tourists have contacted their travel agencies, hotels and the tourism office to express concern about their vacations, while some have even cancelled trips, Weidman admitted.

“We would like tourists to know that the well-being and liveliness of the city, and the people who live here, are steadily recovering, and that tourist spots around Sapporo are open for business again,” she said. “We are looking forward to welcoming visitors to Sapporo just as we did before.”

Chris Pickering, director and group general manager of Hokkaido Tourism Management, said the experience of Japanese people and the emergency services meant that there was no panic among the public. For example, water and electricity in the resort of Niseko were reconnected within 24 hours, and that foreign visitors rather enjoyed the novelty of the experience.

“We have had a few cancellations because people could not drive here from Sapporo or were unable to use the airport, but this was a one-off and we are already taking bookings for the winter season,” he said.

“Japan is very good at dealing with these situations and the people are very resilient,” Pickering stressed.

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