October-December tour bookings to China, South Korea down by half

Kyodo

Reservations as of late September for package tours to China and South Korea during the October-December period have plunged to less than half of year-earlier levels against the backdrop of deteriorating relations over territorial issues, four major travel agencies said.

JTB Corp., KNT Co., Nippon Travel Agency Co. and Jalpak Co. have booked a combined 2,650 people for their China tours, down roughly 53 percent, and about 42,340 people for their South Korean packages, down 51 percent.

“Tourism demand will likely remain stagnant for a long while,” said a senior official of a major travel agency about tours to China, given demonstrations in the country, where Japanese shops and manufacturing facilities have been attacked, and Japanese nationals assaulted.

The agencies said they are planning to shift resources to tours to Hawaii and Southeast Asia.

At JTB, the largest of the four, bookings for China tours dropped 51 percent. “Cancellations have slowed down, compared with mid-September, when anti-Japan demonstrations spread (in China), but new reservations are sluggish, as a wait-and-see attitude still prevails,” a JTB official said.

Bookings for China tours fell 64 percent at KNT, 56 percent at Nippon Travel and 48 percent at Jalpak.

For South Korean destinations, reservations have dropped 64 percent at KNT and 56 percent at Jalpak, and have fallen by half at JTB and by 39 percent at Nippon Travel.

Compared with China, however, tensions over Japan’s territorial dispute with South Korea have eased somewhat. The yen also remains strong against the won and South Korean TV dramas and popular music still attract a big audience in Japan.

“If circumstances remain unchanged, (South Korea-bound) bookings should recover earlier than for China,” a travel agency official said.

Hong Kong tours have also taken a beating. Bookings have fallen around 27 percent to around 8,070 travelers. Reservations fell by 45 percent at KNT, 43 percent at Jalpak, 23 percent at JTB and 10 percent at Nippon Travel.

According to the Japan Association of Travel Agents, around 3.66 million people traveled to China and 3.29 million to South Korea last year.

Tours to China fell following a clash between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard vessels near the disputed Senkaku Islands in 2010 and last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake, but had been on the rise afterward.

Travel agents were hoping for a further pickup in demand this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and China.

A Nippon Travel official said, “It’ a pity because we have arranged products with various ideas, such as tours to areas with ethnic minorities, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the normalization of relations.”

JTB said business travel to China, however, “has not been impacted as much as tourism because many are traveling there out of necessity.”