Lively and bustling Shibuya was one of the world’s most crowded intersections. No one would have guessed its frenzied mix of foreign and local bustle would fade.
But the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan on March 11 and ensuing nuclear crisis have frightened tourists away.
The Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) reported international tourist arrivals to Japan fell sharply by 50.3% in March to 352,800, causing a first-quarter decline of 1.3% to 1.745 million.
The number of Thai tourist arrivals in Japan in the first quarter dropped by 23% to 36,700, with March figures falling 58% to 11,700.
In January, Thai visitors to Japan increased to 11,412, up 15.5%, while reaching 13,600 in February, up 36.6%.
Today, Thai tour bookings to Japan are nearly zero and Japanese tourism authorities are eager to draw back visitors, saying many tourist attractions emerged from the disaster unscathed or have recovered.
“We appreciate your donations and compassion, but we also hope you come back to visit Japan,” said Izumi Amano, director of the Bangkok office of JNTO.
“Many popular tourist destinations and facilities such as Hokkaido and Tokyo remain unaffected,” said Mr Amano, who plans to work closely with the Tourism Council of Thailand and the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) to regain tourist confidence in Japan.
The JNTO will attend tourism promotion events in Thailand such as the Thailand Travel Mart next month and the TTAA Travel Fair 2011 in August. Media representatives from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong will be invited for familiarisation trips to Japan, but Thailand was the first to take part, with 160 TTAA members returning from a five-day journey last Sunday.
“I didn’t hesitate to join this trip, because I strongly believe Japan has responsibility, good management and self-discipline, and if the country was not safe enough, its government wouldn’t open the country to foreign tourists,” said Seni Puwastthawon, president of the Tourism Council of Surat Thani.
Charoen Wangananont, president of the TTAA, declared Japan today safe for travelling but noted Thai tourists are regarded as quite sensitive to crises.
For example, 240 tour agents and travel writers were invited on the junket but only 160 confirmed, said Mr Charoen.
“Everything is back to normal there. We can eat all the food and drink the water. There is no concern about radiation as long as you travel in safe areas such as Tokyo, Yamanashi and Hokkaido,” he said, adding the association expects Thai tourists to fully return by early next year.
The TTAA has cut its projection for Thai tourist arrivals to Japan to 120,000 this year, down from 300,000 earlier and after 214,000 in 2010.