Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Shaken but not broken in Japan

The recent string of natural disasters has only strengthened the resolve of Kyushu’s tourism stakeholders to welcome tourists back to the destination by rebuilding its infrastructure and offering attractive promotions. Julian Ryall reports.

Twenty-sixteen was a year of upheaval for the travel trade in Kyushu, as Japan’s southernmost island suffered a series of powerful earthquakes and aftershocks in April – which caused 50 deaths and wrecked havoc on landmarks such as Kumamoto Castle. Barely six months later, Kyushu was dealt another blow in early October when Mount Aso – one of the region’s most popular attractions – erupted for the first time in nearly two decades.

Despite the double blows from these disasters, the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization (KTPO) accepts that the local travel sector needs to work hard to rebuild its reputation, but remains confident that can be achieved.

Sharing the immediate fallouts on the local trade, Hisatoshi Sakamoto, director of KTPO’s overseas division, said: “As of April 23, 96 different tourism-related facilities were closed – 60 in Kumamoto Prefecture and another 35 in Oita. As of May 8, there were 700,000 cancellations to destinations in Kyushu.”

To enable visitors to better understand the ground situation, KTPO set up an earthquake information portal in five different languages including English, and provided updates on transportation and road conditions in the affected regions, Sakamoto told TTG Asia.

The Japanese government was also swift to lend a helping hand to the local tourism industry, announcing an 18 billion yen (US$156.2 million) emergency budget on May 11 to be shared among Kyushu’s seven prefectural tourism organisations.

“Using this budget, the Visit Kyushu Special Campaign was introduced over the summer, providing discounts of up to 70 per cent on lodgings in Kumamoto and Oita and 50 per cent everywhere else in Kyushu,” said Sakamoto.

In tandem with the campaign, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry launched a scheme to leverage foreign media and bloggers to promote Kyushu as a holiday destination.

In addition, Shinya Katanozaka, president of All Nippon Airways Holdings, in July slashed the cost of a one-way flight from Tokyo to Kyushu throughout September to 9,700 yen, down from an average of 12,000 yen.

Similarly, both Kinki Nippon Tourist Co and Nippon Travel Agency have been providing discounted accommodation packages to the region since last summer, which have received strong interest at least among domestic travellers. As well, Kyushu Railway Co introduced a special one-day discount pass in June and July that could be used on the company’s local and bullet train lines.

Regardless, early indications are showing positive impacts from the combined programmes.

In the first six months of 2016, total arrivals were up 40 per cent compared with the same period in 2015. Of that total, 767,000 arrived aboard cruise ships, a sector that saw no cancellations in the wake of the disasters that struck the region.

The KTPO estimated that total arrivals in 2016 to reach 3.6 million, which would represent a remarkable increase of 30 per from the record 2.8 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2015.

“We are currently promoting Kyushu as a wonderful tourist destination with natural beauty and building a brand image for Kyushu. In the minds of many foreign visitors to Japan, Kyushu is not perceived as a holiday destination, something that we are trying hard to change,” said Sakamoto.

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