Japan dangles huge incentives to lure tourists back to quake-hit Hokkaido

Former Hokkaido Government Office in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Travel companies across Hokkaido are welcoming an initiative from the national government that will provide subsidies of up to 20,000 yen (US$176) per night for tourists who stay in the prefecture, which was rattled by a major earthquake on September 6.

The scheme was introduced on October 1 for domestic travellers to Hokkaido, with OTAs providing the discounts through coupons provided by the national government to cover up to 70 per cent of their travel costs for up to three nights. A similar scheme is being rolled out for foreign visitors, but up to a maximum of five nights.

Both domestic and foreign travellers to the region will get former subsidies; former Hokkaido Government Office in Sapporo, Hokkaido pictured

The Japanese government is setting aside 15.3 billion yen to fund the programme, as well as increasing the number of staff at a call centre managed by the Japan National Tourism Organization to provide information to foreign travellers.

“We had a number of foreign travellers cancel their holidays with us immediately after the earthquake, but not so many Japanese tourists as they are perhaps more used to situations like this,” said Misa Kawata, head of international inbound travel operations for Sapporo-based Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel Inc.

“Facilities and services are all back to normal now, but we still appreciate this assistance because it will be an important promotion to encourage more people to come to Hokkaido,” she told TTG Asia.

The initiative also saw positive reception from Chris Pickering, director and group general manager of Hokkaido Tourism Management. “There were similar coupon incentive programmes in the past and those worked because more people came to Hokkaido,” he said.

“We had some cancellations immediately after the earthquake, because the airport at Sapporo was shut and it was difficult for people to get here. But everything is back to normal now and the rest of October is looking to be very busy for us.

“Anything that can be done to get the word out that it’s business as usual here is welcome,” he added.

Takahiro Yoshioka, head of tourism promotion for the City of Sapporo, echoed that sentiment, saying: “While it is a sizeable cost (to the government), we think it will be an effective way to boost demand in the tourism sector here.”

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