Tuesday, May 10, 2011

02/05 Positive signs for travel sector / Figures better than expected, but demand remains uncertain

Children watch penguins at the Marinpia Matsushima Aquarium in Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture.

People visit Tokyo Disney Sea in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture.

Hopes are rising for a recovery in the nation's tourism industry, with travel agents, hotels and other businesses doing all they can to attract customers as the Golden Week holidays began and the mood of self-restraint appeared to be weakening.

One boost came from the reopening Friday of the Tohoku Shinkansen line, which stretches from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori, after a 49-day hiatus.

Pleasure boats at Matsushima Bay in Miyagi Prefecture also resumed operations the same day. The Matsushima islets are designated by the government as one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan.

"We want as many people as possible to visit Matsushima and spread the word that it's safe," said Akira Ito, chief director of Matsushima Shimameguri Kankosen Kigyo Kumiai, a Matsushima islands tour association.

The government also is looking into ways to make expressways in the Tohoku region free. If realized, this will likely accelerate the rehabilitation of tourism in disaster-stricken areas.

JTB Corp. had estimated the number of Golden Week travelers would drop by 27.6 percent from the same period last year to about 16.09 million. But a number of last-minute reservations and attractions reopening for business means that a fall of this magnitude is less likely.

All Nippon Airways' domestic bookings have recovered to 5 percent fewer than the same period last year, and reservations for the Tokaido Shinkansen line have recovered to about 15 percent.

Oriental Land Co. resumed operations of Tokyo Disneyland on April 15 and Tokyo Disney Sea on Thursday.

Kyushu's tourism industry is also showing signs of recovery. Golden Week hotel reservations at Huis Ten Bosch Co. in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, increased by about 30 percent from last year due to the introduction of new facilities at the amusement park.

However, operations remain suspended at Spa Resort Hawaiians, a hot spring resort facility, in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, that usually attracts about 1.5 million visitors a year.

"As long as rumors surround the nuclear power plant, we're unable to make future plans and reopen for business," an official of the resort facility said.

Observers also say recovery of the tourism industry could be hindered by rising crude oil prices. The average price of regular gasoline nationwide has topped 150 yen per liter and is expected to continue increasing.

With the nation's economic outlook remaining unclear, many observers have said demand remains uncertain. "Demand for travel is still doubtful," ANA Executive Vice President Tomohiro Hidema said.

Under these circumstances, Prince Hotels Inc. said it would continue with a national price-cut campaign at 21 of its hotels until the end of March 2012. Guests who stay at the hotel for more than one night can get a 35 percent to 80 percent discount off regular rates for their rooms.

Meanwhile, the Kyoto municipal government is bidding to attract traveling families and has appealed to the city's hotels and inns to offer free accommodation for children.

(May. 2, 2011)

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