Tohoku’s tourism rebound below 80% of prequake level

Concerns linger over radiation, lack of hotels, other lodgings

Kyodo

Tourism levels at hotels and inns in the Tohoku region, which was clobbered by the March 2011 megaquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, remained below 80 percent of their prequake levels in the first half of fiscal 2012, the Japan Tourism Agency said Monday.

Lingering concerns over the triple-meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture, as well as a lack of sufficient accommodations in disaster-affected areas, are slowing the recovery of tourism in the region, observers said, noting the trend could drag down its recovery from the disasters.

The number of tourists who stayed at hotels and other lodging facilities in the six prefectures that make up Tohoku — Aomori, Akita, Yamagata, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima — came to around 8,977,000 between April and September last year, down 23.0 percent from the same period in 2010, the agency said.

The 2012 figure also marks a drop of 11 percent from the same period in 2011.

The number of guests nationwide also fell last year as many people refrained from travel amid a sentiment of voluntary restraint in light of the loss of life, but the drop narrowed to 4.2 percent in the half compared with same period in 2010.

The number of foreigners, mainly South Korean and Chinese, who visited Tohoku in the half came to about 39,000, down 74.9 percent from the predisaster level.

Top travel agency JTB Corp. said the number of Tohoku package tours it sold in the October-December quarter last year was about 15 percent below the same period in 2010, but up 5 percent from 2011.

Yuji Oashi, an official of the Development Bank of Japan’s branch covering the Tohoku region, said, “The entire northeastern region needs to deepen cooperation to lure tourists through such measures as developing attractive tourist routes.”