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Island issue sinks China-Japan tourism
Publication Date : 22-01-2013
Visitor numbers stagnant in peak travel season
As the annual travel peak approaches, Chinese-Japanese tourism remains near rock bottom, and industry insiders say they expect no speedy recovery because of the Diaoyu Islands dispute.
Four months after all tour packages to Japan were withdrawn when tensions rose, Japanese travel packages reappeared on Chinese travel agency websites in December.
But the booking records on some websites show that the Japanese tours, once popular during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, are far from fully booked, a stark contrast with other overseas destinations.
"All travel agencies are testing the waters to see how the market responds to tour packages to Japan, but the results are not good," said Ge Lei, a spokesman for China Youth Travel Service.
At Ctrip, a major online travel agency, almost all tour packages to Japan departing late this month or in February have openings. A spokesman for the company declined to comment due to "the sensitivity of the issue".
The situation is similar at the booking websites of China International Travel Service, another major travel agency. None of the tours to Japan are fully booked.
Ge said the main reason for the lack of interest is that most Chinese people still "have strong feelings" against Japan because of the Diaoyu Islands dispute, and they support boycotting visits to the country.
In an online poll by Japan's Kyodo News Agency on January 5, 67 per cent of Chinese respondents said they "will not travel to Japan" because of its government's illegal "purchase" of the islands in September.
There has been a sharp drop in Chinese tourists to Japan in the past four months.
The Japan National Tourism Organisation said only 52,000 Chinese mainland visitors entered the country in November, a 43.6 per cent year-on-year decline, with a sharp decrease in tour groups.
The former growing trend of Chinese tourists visiting Japan began to reverse in September, when ties between the countries soured, and by October, monthly visitor figures slumped, according to the Japanese tourism organisation.
In August, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan had increased by 88 per cent year-on-year. In October, it plummeted by 33.1 per cent year-on-year. November continued the trend with a 43.6 per cent year-on-year decline.
Japanese tourism in China followed a similar trend.
According to the China National Tourism Administration, 226,100 Japanese tourists visited China in November, down 31 per cent year-on-year.
The numbers also declined in September (22 per cent) and October (27 per cent).
Tourism authorities in both countries have not disclosed the extent of financial losses due to the sudden cooling off.
However, Zhang Qingzhu, a spokeswoman for China Comfort Travel in Beijing, said the company suffered an estimated loss of 20 million yuan (US$3.2 million) after it voluntarily cancelled Japan-bound tour products and stopped cooperation with Japanese counterparts last year.
"Seeing relations with Japan haven't softened, we're looking to South Korea, because the flight distance is similar to Japan's," she said. The travel service aims to send 100,000 Chinese tourists to South Korea this year.
Industry insiders say they see no sign of a quick recovery, even though the yen lost 10 per cent of its value in the past three months, making Japanese visits cheaper for Chinese tourists.
Many Internet users said they would not visit Japan even if the currency devaluation makes the deal good value.
"Even if we didn't have to pay for anything, we should boycott trips to Japan," a netizen wrote on Sina Weibo, a popular micro-blogging website.
Wu Shiqing, a Beijing resident, said that although she has always planned to see Japan for herself one day, "this is not the right time".