Tourism looks for a boost

Major travel fair in Yokohama pitches destinations all over Japan

by Kazuaki Nagata

YOKOHAMA — Aiming to stimulate domestic tourism and boost foreign tourism, Tabi (Travel) Fair 2009 kicked off Friday in Yokohama with promoters and public organizations from around the nation pitching their local specialties.

“The situation facing the primary and secondary (agriculture and manufacturing) industries is quite tough in the rural areas. As a result, the flow of people (into remote areas) needs to be increased to energize these areas,” said Takeshi Koda, executive director of the Japan Tourism Association.

“Tourism is one of the big pillars for that,” he said.

Running through Sunday, the event at Pacifico Yokohama convention center is one of Japan’s biggest travel exhibitions.

Drawing thousands of people, it features a variety of attractions, including a demonstration each day in which a huge tuna from Misaki Port in Kanagawa Prefecture is cleaned and served to visitors.

Many booths look for unique ways to attract visitors and promote their specialties. For instance, the Gero district, a famous “onsen” area in Gifu Prefecture, has brought in real hot-spring water.

Niigata Prefecture is playing up native son Naoe Kanetsugu, a feudal warrior in the 16th and 17th centuries currently the subject of an NHK drama starring the popular actor Satoshi Tsumabuki.

Koda of the Japan Tourism Association said the basic structure of the travel industry is in a state of flux. Since the 1990s, the most popular packages included only transportation and hotel arrangements.

But consumers now tend to travel based on a specific theme, such as visiting places in relation to historic figures or just to try local food, instead of going to a destination without knowing what to do once they get there, Koda said.

Norihiko Suzuki, who works for JTB’s Hokkaido domestic product division, said that he is seeing the same trend and travel agencies will be working hard to meet this kind of demand.

While the swine flu outbreak has had a big impact on school trips, Koda said general travel hasn’t taken much of a hit.

Isao Ohwada, executive director of the Hokkaido Tourism Organization, said school trips to the northern main island, involving about 3,000 people, have been canceled due to the flu scare.