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12 Jun, 2011

Emerging Stats Show Impact of Tsunami on Japan Travel

The first set of figures released after the tsunami-caused Fukushima nuclear crisis show a 9% decline in outbound Japanese travellers in both March and April, and much higher levels of decline in inbound travellers. Both declines have had a huge impact on Japanese tour companies, travel agencies and hotels.

According to figures compiled by the Japan Tourism Marketing Company (JTMC), the number of Japanese overseas travellers in March 2011 was estimated at 1,732,000, down 12.2% over March 2010. Inbound arrivals in March are estimated at 353,000, (down 50%), and in April 295,800 (down 62.5%).

Although most of the figures draw upon preliminary estimates by the Japanese National Tourism Organisation (JNTO), they are usually accurate to within a few percentage points.

Said JTMC in its monthly report issued last week, “The March 11 earthquake and tsunami, coupled with the radiation issues at Fukushima nuclear power plant, have spread a nation-wide reluctance to enjoy leisure activities including traveling. The outbound passenger traffic was further constrained by the temporary suspension of the international flights serving Japan and downsizing of the aircrafts.”

Long haul destinations appear to have been more badly hit. In March, Japanese outbound to Canada was down 30%, New Zealand -35% and Bali -23%. By contrast, outbound to Korea was down by a comparatively less 12% and China 17%.

Surprisingly, in March, Japanese outbound travel to Taiwan was up by 1.9%, Thailand +3.1%, and Viet Nam +10.0% over March 2010. JTMC attributed this to an increase in air seat capacity from Tokyo-Haneda. However, the increase in arrivals to Thailand is somewhat of a statistical illusion; Japanese arrivals plunged in April 2010 when the political riots were going on in Thailand. Hence the “growth” is due to its calculation off a low base figure.

According to JTMC, Narita International Airport reported that the number of Japanese departures in March 2011 was 584,351, down 27.9% over March 2010. However, Haneda Airport recorded 201,293 (+121.7%), a nearly threefold increase. Departures from Kansai International Airport totalled 312,810, (-3.2%), and Central Japan International Airport 153,587, (-4.2%) in March.

INBOUND TRAVEL: According to the JNTO, the number of international visitors to Japan for March 2011 dropped to 352,800 (-50.3%), and fell again in April 2011 by a much higher 62.5% to 295,800. In March, the total number of travelers to Japan was down to half of that in March 2010, with particularly sharp declines in arrivals from Hong Kong (-61.2%), Germany (-64.6%), and Thailand (58.7%).

Most of the countries and regions still have travel advisories to Japan, warning their citizens to postpone or refrain from visiting Japan for a non-essential trip. The radiation issue in Fukushima is the main deterrent for the potential visitors to Japan, even after the frequency of aftershock has dropped and the life in the cities in Japan is back to normal, JTMC reported.

However, it said that that the situation is stabilising. “Following the Hong Kong’s major tour operators resuming the operation of tours to Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and China have begun sending the tourists and familiarization tour groups to Japan.”

Gross Sales of Major Companies (Outbound): Gross sales in outbound travel of the top 50 travel companies were approximately 174 billion yen in March 2011, down 10.2% over March 2010, the JTMC report said. Gross sales of outbound package tours in March 2011 were 52.5 billion yen, down by 8.5% from the year ago, while total number of tourists on package tours fell by 13.0%.

HOTELS: Data from STR Global, a provider of market data to the global hotel industry, shows that hotels in Sendai, the city nearest the earthquake’s epicentre, Sapporo and Tokyo have borne the brunt of the impact of the disaster. Cities further from the centre of the catastrophe were generally impacted less.

Occupancy in Japan was down 21.3 percent for March 2011 and 27.6 percent for April 2011 compared with the same months in 2010. Tokyo and Sendai showed greater falls in occupancy of 33.6 percent and 36.7 percent for March, respectively, compared to the nationwide occupancy decrease, according to STR Global.

Sendai’s RevPAR declined 22.7 percent in March 2011 before increasing by 77.2 percent in April 2011. The data company said that demand is expected to remain firm with, firstly, the resumption of the normal operation of the Tohoku Shinkansen express train helping volunteers, relief and reconstruction teams get to the affected area and, secondly, with insurance companies sending plenty of staff to the Sendai area to assess claims.

By comparison Tokyo, some 300 kilometres to the south of Sendai, saw plummeting occupancies that fell from 83 percent in March 2010 to 55 percent in March 2011, as people sought to move away from the threat of radiation exposure. Further south, Osaka saw only a small reduction in occupancy (-2.8 percent) whilst Kobe actually experienced a rise of 6 percent.