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Japan inbound to US: recovering but not recovered

The number of Japanese travelers into the United States is beginning to recover from a downturn following the island nation’s March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and radiation leaks, according to an NTA-TMI survey and NTA members.

Key Japanese tour operators are reporting that cancelations for bookings to the US mainland have gone from 40 percent canceled during March and April to 10 percent during July through September. The operators’ statistics were in response to a targeted question included in the most recent Japan Travel Trade Barometer, conducted in July by NTA’s research partner, Travel Market Insights.

“We’re still looking at a decrease in bookings,” said Scott Johnson, TMI principal. “At the time of the survey, bookings for the second quarter were down by an average of 4 to 9 percent. However, bookings for the third quarter were down only 1 to 3 percent on average, with a quarter of the trade reporting a rebound in bookings compared to last summer.” And while the damage from the March disasters subdued the population’s mood for leisure travel, there was already a reduction in travel to the US mainland, said Jeff Tano, manager of corporate planning for JTB Americas, a division of Japan Travel Bureau.

“The earthquake has impacted travel, but we cannot say this is the only factor,” Tano said. “Since 2006-2010, we have been monitoring average annual decreases of 11.5 percent in arrivals for the mainland US. We believe these decreases are due to several external factors, including competition against other destinations, such as Asia and Europe.”

Overall, 20 percent of NTA’s tour companies serve outbound travelers from Japan. “It’s an important market for the US and for a good percentage of NTA’s US receptives,” said Lisa Simon, CTP, NTA president. “It’s promising to see that a recovery is in the works, but we know that ongoing marketing efforts will help US businesses and destinations regain a greater share of the Japanese market.”


Tano said that as Japanese travel to the mainland US further ebbed following the earthquake, more travelers flowed from Japan into Hawaii. “We saw a quick recovery of travel in the months after April,” he said, “This is possibly due to Hawaii’s location, as well as our efforts to quick launch long-stay products targeting customers who wanted to flee from radiation.”

Both Johnson and Tano say that with so many factors in play, including the exchange rate, airfare, and the Japanese economy, it is difficult to predict with certainty that travel from Japan to the US mainland will soon surpass pre-earthquake numbers. But there is hope among US destinations, said David Andre, vice president of marketing and communications for the Santa Clara (California) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The unfortunate disasters in Japan have affected inbound groups,” Andre said, “However, the Japanese are resilient and they will be back.”