Republican convention keeps Japanese out of New York

Kyodo

The exorbitant cost of hotel rooms combined with high occupancy rates related to New York City’s hosting of the Republican National Convention is keeping scores of Japanese tourists away from the Big Apple, Japanese tourist agencies said.

The Republican gala is taking place at Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan and there are an estimated 50,000 politicians, delegates, journalists and guests in town for the four-day event through Thursday.

“Hotel rates are double because space and availability are very tight, so Japanese tourists are trying to avoid those expensive times,” said Ken Sudo, manager of M & W International Inc., a local coordinator.

A room at the Hilton New York, for example, which usually costs about $250 a night, is going for about $500.

Usually in early September there are an average of four or five groups, which range in size from 20 to 100, who come to the city each week. This year, however, for the time period that coincides with the convention, there were no groups booked. Sudo expects his tour groups to be back by the end of the month.

By that time, huge events, including U.S. Open Tennis Championships, the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the U.N. General Assembly, which opens Sept. 14, will be over.

Tour operators insisted that visitors were discouraged by the price and availability of hotels, rather than the fear factor that might be associated with large crowds at a time when the city is in a heightened terrorist alert.

Despite the inconvenience travelers faced by the many street-closings and heavy police presence, Tokyo graduate student Tetsuya Hattori said he enjoyed visiting tourist spots.

Other tourists from Asia, including Kan Park, a civil engineering student from Seoul, also seemed to take everything in their stride.

Park, who is staying with friends for a month while he tours the city, was impressed by the diversity of the groups taking part in the mass demonstrations against Bush.

He stood under large outdoor TV screens taking pictures along a busy intersection blocks from the convention center, before California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was to speak.

“It is very exciting, but sometimes when I try to take pictures the police stop me,” the 25-year-old said.