Usu dealing blow to tourism

Volcano may cost Hokkaido travel industry billions

The eruptions of Mount Usu in southwestern Hokkaido will cost the local tourist industry around 1.65 billion yen in lost revenue this month alone, and the amount will balloon if the situation fails to improve, according to a local branch of Hokkaido’s chamber of commerce.

The figures, calculated by the chamber’s Iburi regional branch, were disclosed at a forum that began Tuesday at the Transport Ministry in Tokyo. About 40 representatives of tour operators, airlines and railways attended.

The branch of the Hokkaido Prefectural Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry warned that the amount of tourism-related losses could top 3 billion yen a month for the normally busy tourist season from May until the end of summer if eruptions and evacuations continue.

“The effects are far-reaching,” Transport Minister Toshihiro Nikai told the gathering. “There are even concerns for regions that are away from the eruptions and have nothing to do with them.”

One of the region’s main tourist draws is the hot-spring resort at Lake Toya, in the town of Abuta, which has completely shut down since nearby craters began spewing steam, rock and ash three weeks ago.

The eruptions have also kept all tourists away from the popular hot-spring resort at Sobetsu, one of the towns located near the mountain.

The group said its figures were based on the average expenditure per tourist and the number of visitors who normally visit the towns of Abuta and Sobetsu and the city of Date, the three communities closest to the mountain.

For each day in April, the amount lost will average 55 million yen in the city and two towns, the chamber’s branch said.

If the eruptions continue during May, which normally sees an increase in the number of tourists, the daily figure could balloon to around 100 million yen and then 115 million yen in June, it warned.

Significant losses are even expected for some areas at safe distances from the volcano. Tour operators in the hot-spring resort of Noboribetsu, about 30 km from the mountain, expect cancellations by more than 10,000 visitors, according to tourism officials at the Hokkaido Prefectural Government.