Travel agent inspected after trekking deaths

Kyodo

Officials from the Japan Tourism Agency on Friday inspected the Tokyo head office of Amuse-Travel Co., the travel agency that organized the trekking tour in China in which three Japanese tourists died in a blizzard last week.

Five officials from the tourism agency and the transport ministry’s Kanto district bureau in Yokohama checked in detail Amuse-Travel’s safety management system for tourists.

The agency has the power to order Amuse-Travel to halt its business activities if it finds problems.

Two women and a man died on a mountain after being caught in heavy snow last Saturday near the Great Wall in the suburbs of Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province.

Another Japanese tourist and a Chinese guide accompanying them survived. A second Chinese guide who left the party to find help also survived.

The lone surviving tourist, a 59-year-old woman from Toyama Prefecture, returned Thursday to Japan. She suffered severe frostbite to her hands and feet.

It was not the first fatal incident involving Amuse-Travel. The agency organized a mountain tour in Hokkaido in July 2009 in which eight people, including a guide, froze to death.

Yuichiro Hata, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, said Friday his ministry has conducted regular inspections of Amuse-Travel since the 2009 tragedy.

Hata said the authorities need to collect information on the management of the travel agency and its financial situation, and look at whether the Chinese tour was appropriate.

The tourism agency will soon set up a team to look into the administrative directives it has issued so far to Amuse-Travel, Hata said, adding he has instructed the agency to file an interim report by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, survivors and relatives of victims in the 2009 case called for the government to prevent a similar accident from happening again.

A 67-year-old woman in Hiroshima who survived the 2009 accident accused Amuse-Travel of failing to learn from its mistakes.

The inspection of Amuse-Travel’s head office in Chiyoda Ward was based on the 1952 travel agency law.

As the inspection began, a senior official of the company said, “We take this incident seriously and are ready to cooperate fully.”

Members of the media as well as dozens of onlookers gathered outside the office building housing the travel agency.