Thursday, April 21, 2016

Quakes lead to drop in foreign tourist numbers across Kyushu

The Yunotsubo Kaido street in the Yufuin hot spring resort in Yufuin, Oita Prefecture, a popular tourism spot for foreigners, lacks a usual bustling atmosphere on April 20. (Shuei Shibata)
FUKUOKA--Foreign tourist numbers have plunged across Kyushu since the earthquake disaster hit the center of the southern main island, raising concerns about the impact on a key pillar of the government’s tourism promotion policy.
Central government tourism officials are working to stem the decline in visitors to Kyushu, but local industry officials are showing little optimism for an immediate turnaround as rescue work and aftershocks continue.
China and Hong Kong have issued travel warnings against visiting Kyushu in light of the serial inland quakes, including the main magnitude-7.3 temblor that struck on April 16, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.
Tourists are scrapping plans to visit Kumamoto Prefecture, where the epicenters of many of the earthquakes have been located. But visitor numbers are also dropping in Fukuoka, Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, according to the agency.
Since the first major tremor jolted Kumamoto Prefecture on April 14, about 2,400 people have canceled their reservations for the Camellia Line ferry, which makes a daily round trip between the Hakata Port in Fukuoka and Busan Port in South Korea, through mid-May.
About 90 percent of the ferry’s passengers are South Koreans, many of whom take tour buses to the Mount Aso area in Kumamoto Prefecture as well as Beppu and other hot spring resorts in Oita Prefecture, according to Fukuoka-based Camellia Line Co.
“Every time a major disaster takes place, we see a drop in the number of passengers, but the plunge this time is definitely the worst,” a company executive said.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami devastated areas of northeastern Japan in March 2011, the number of ferry passengers dropped over fears of aftershocks and radiation contamination from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, even though Kyushu is far south of the hard-hit Tohoku region, according to the company.
It took three months after the 3/11 disaster for passenger numbers to return to normal. Company officials expect it will take much longer this time around.
The southern Japanese region, with its scenic attractions around Mount Aso and prominent hot spring resorts, has increased in popularity among tourists from South Korea, China and Taiwan. In addition to its proximity to these countries, a positive feature of Kyushu had been its reputation of being one of the least earthquake-prone areas in Japan.
In 2015, the number of inbound visitors to Kyushu soared by 70 percent from the previous year to 2.83 million, accounting for 14 percent of all foreign visitors to Japan.
Around 70 percent of overseas tourists to the region were from Asian countries, led by 42 percent from South Korea.
The central government plans to double the number of foreign visitors to Japan from 19.73 million last year to 40 million by 2020. A key strategy in that plan is to attract more foreign tourists to regional areas, including those in Kyushu.
“We need to make efforts to contain the disaster’s damage to tourism in the region to the minimum,” JTA Commissioner Akihiko Tamura said at a news conference on April 20.
Tamura said the government will strengthen functions to provide up-to-date and accurate information on the disaster for foreign tourists.
(This article was written by Yo Noguchi and Shuei Shibata.)
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