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IIST e-Magazine

Tohoku Tourism Current Situation and Reconstruction | Takeshi Suma, Director Inbound Promotion Department Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization [Date of Issue: 30/November/2012 No.0213-0870]

Date of Issue: 30/November/2012

Tohoku Tourism
Current Situation and Reconstruction

Takeshi Suma
Director
Inbound Promotion Department
Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization


Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tohoku tourism is still struggling, but amid rebuilding efforts supported from within and beyond Japan, a new form of tourism?‘reconstruction tourism’?is beginning to emerge.


Twice in September and October this year, the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization worked with the Tohoku District Transport Bureau to bring a total of 43 overseas travel agency and media representatives from Korea, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, the US and France to view Tohoku tourist spots on five different courses. The aim was to advertise the attractions of Tohoku tourism and enable outsiders to affirm progress toward recovery since the March 2011 disaster, as well as the safety of the region, so as to increase the number of tourists coming from abroad. We were concerned that the impact of political issues between Japan and China and Korea would dampen participation from these two countries. However, everyone arrived in Tohoku almost exactly as originally planned, with the participants from the various countries savoring the attractions of Tohoku tourism in a very harmonious atmosphere.

Current state of Tohoku tourism

Looking first at the impact on tourism after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Japan Tourism Agency’s Statistical Survey on Overnight Travel suggests that in terms of the number of overnight visitors to Tohoku, reconstruction demand continues in the affected prefectures. The prefectural comparison reveals differences in concentration according to whether or not there is reconstruction demand, with conditions remaining difficult particularly in those accommodation facilities with a strong tourism orientation.

Tohoku’s six major festivals (the Aomori Nebuta Festival, the Morioka Sansa Odori Festival, the Akita Kantou Festival, Sendai Tanabata Festival, Yamagata Hanagasa Festival, and the Fukushima Waraji Festival) attracted 8.69 million visitors this summer, up 102 percent on the previous year thanks to the general public taking up the call to support Tohoku through tourism. (This was, however, only 93 percent of the 2010 figure.)

Aomori Nebuta festival

Aomori Nebuta festival

The number of foreign overnight visitors to Tohoku is however recovering slowly compared to the national level. According to figures compiled by the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization, 139,020 foreigners stayed in Tohoku between January and June this year (92 percent compared to last year and 48 percent the year before). By country, the number of visitors was up for China (19,550 people, or 133 percent Y-Y), the US (19,040 people, 163 percent Y-Y), Thailand (3,900 people, 244 percent Y-Y). A similar recovery has yet to occur in the case of Korea (19,770 people, or 57 percent Y-Y), Hong Kong (8,880, or 65 percent Y-Y) and Taiwan (30,420 people, or 79 percent Y-Y). The main factors behind this delay include unease about radiation from the nuclear power plant accident occurring at the time of the disaster, rumors arising from foreign media reports, and the impact of yen appreciation.

In the case of China, the issuance of multiple-entry visas for individual tourists was extended from Okinawa out to the three affected Tohoku prefectures as of July this year. However, just as an inbound effect was expected for Tohoku, a political issue arose between China and Japan. Reciprocal exchange projects between Japanese and Chinese local authorities have since been cancelled and regular flights from local airports to China stopped, with the number of Chinese tourists ceasing to grow.

The number of Korean tourists visiting Tohoku has slumped heavily since the nuclear power plant accident last year, while the political incident between Japan and Korea has also led local authorities to cancel friendship exchange programs. However, some Korean travel agencies have also been organizing tours to Tohoku, and signs of recovery are gradually beginning to emerge.

In Thailand in Southeast Asia, by contrast, economic development and the market entry of low-cost carriers (LCCs) have encouraged the growth of offshore travel by members of the middle-class and young people. The launch of multiple-entry visas to Japan as of June this year should further accelerate this trend, with more inbound tourism into Tohoku also likely to develop.

Efforts by the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization

The Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization (TTPO) was established in Sendai City in June 2007. On March 29 last year immediately after the disaster, we joined with the Tohoku District Transport Bureau, the East Japan Railway Company, the Tohoku Economic Federation and others involved in Tohoku tourism to set up the Tohoku Tourism Working Group to provide information to repair rumor damage, foster interest in travel as a way of dispelling the current climate of self-restraint, and support efforts to draw visitors and create new visitor markets.

To encourage the recovery of inbound tourism by providing overseas travel agents and the mass media with correct information, after the disaster we sent staff out to Taipei, Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Hong Kong and Beijing to thank people for the warm support Japan received from abroad, as well as to ensure that local travel agents and media represented the actual and current situation in Tohoku accurately and carefully rather than rumor-mongering.

We have also organized booths at travel shows in places such as Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei and Sydney, as well as working with the JTA on national promotions highlighting Tohoku’s attractiveness and safety as a place that people can feel comfortable visiting.

Because of rumors fostered at least to some extent by foreign media following the disaster, as I initially noted, the TTPO has been inviting representatives from foreign newspapers, magazines and television stations, bloggers and others to Tohoku to visit tourist spots with the aim of having more accurate information communicated.

Reconstruction tourism

In areas affected by the Tohoku disaster, a new form of tourism has begun which is a little different to conventional tourism—‘reconstruction tourism’. Many volunteers and support personnel from Japan and abroad are engaged in a whole range of activities in the affected areas, and recovery tourism enables such people to go into affected areas to see the situation and provide support, while also enjoying traveling to nearby tourist spots.

Because of the educational effect of these tours of affected areas and of volunteer action there, opportunities are also being developed for junior and senior high school students to visit such areas on their graduation trips. The TTPO holds seminars on educational travel for school personnel and agents in Tokyo and elsewhere, introducing them to education programs that invite students to Tohoku to learn about the disaster from guides trained as professional storytellers, building their awareness of disaster prevention.

As of immediately after the disaster, many volunteers from Japan and overseas have provided support to Tohoku, while many artists too have visited the region to help out, including a beauty pageant featuring Asian super-models which was held in Fukushima City at the end of October last year. The voluntary efforts of these generous individuals whose hearts have gone out to Japan and Tohoku has lent courage to Tohoku, and we are slowly working toward recovery. Tohoku tourism may be struggling, but we at the TTPO will continue to work to advertise and provide accurate information about Tohoku’s many attractions, not least to respond to the encouragement we receive from all those who love the nature, history, culture, food, hot springs and people of the Tohoku region.

Disaster program targeting foreign travel agents (Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture)

Disaster program targeting foreign travel agents
(Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture)

PR video footage targeting international visitors (Kakunodate samurai residence, Akita Prefecture)

PR video footage targeting international visitors
(Kakunodate samurai residence, Akita Prefecture)

(original article : Japanese)




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