Japan quake drives tourist numbers to rock bottom

Japan quake drives tourist numbers to rock bottom

Final data for 2011 show overseas visitors saw sharpest drop on record
Japan tourism
And on that side, you’ll find pretty much all of Japan. Make yourselves at home, there’s plenty of room.

Given the knock-on effects of the March 11 earthquake, it’s hardly unexpected, but the news that the number of tourists visiting Japan in 2011 was down by almost 30 percent still came as something of a blow to the country’s travel industry.

The figures, compiled by the Japan National Tourist Organization, show the biggest annual fall in visitors since it began keeping records.

Just 6.2 million foreign travelers visited Japan [Japanese, scroll down for English] in the whole of 2011 -- down 27.8 percent on 2010.

While the impact of the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident are all implicated, JNTO also says the historically strong Japanese yen has caused many potential visitors to stay away.

Still, the travel industry isn't panicking yet. We spoke to Aya Kihara of Kanazawa-based agency The Real Japan.

"If the figures had decreased without a particular reason, then we would worry more," she said.

"But with this clear situation caused by the earthquake, we don't need to be overly concerned. It's just really painful to both our company and whole industry."

Country breakdown

By country, the numbers show South Koreans shunned the usually popular Japan trips in their droves. Korea has long accounted for the largest number of incoming tourists to its near neighbor.

South Korean visitors were down 32 percent on the year, with just under 1.7 million visiting in 2011, compared to more than 2.4 million in 2010.

Tourism from China slipped by 26 percent on the year, although there was some hope for 2012 on show in December, as the monthly numbers jumped by 32 percent on 2010 thanks to a strong year-end promotional drive aimed at Chinese travelers.

JNTO says it holds out hope for the recovery to be sustained through 2012 and that it intends to beat the yearly record of 8.6 million incoming tourists, set as recently as 2010.

Asked how that might happen, The Real Japan's Kihara focussed on perceptions abroad.

"It might sound too basic," she said, "but spreading impartial and up-to-date information about what's really happening in Japan is what we need to keep doing."

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