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SAS bullish on Japan after logging best year ever in 2012, exec says

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

Scandinavian Airlines System has seen its business in Japan recover dramatically since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the upturn is continuing, according to an SAS executive.

“After the (March 11, 2011) quake, we have seen the market coming back. I am really impressed about the high potential of (the) Japanese market,” said Eivind Roald, SAS executive vice president of sales and marketing.

2012 was the best year for the airline’s business in Japan, Roald said, without elaborating.

Japan is one of the most important markets for SAS, which is owned by the governments of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, because the Copenhagen-Tokyo route has been among its top three routes in sales for many years, he said.

“If you look at the Japanese market, people have high income and spend lots of money. It’s a very interesting market,” Roald said.

The airline’s focus in Japan has traditionally been on business travelers, but the growth is in tourists, he said.

Last year, SAS had direct flights from Japan to small cities in Norway to view the aurora borealis. The campaign was a success, so SAS increased the number of flights this year.

Those flights have a positive effect not only on tourism in the Norwegian cities but also for their residents, as it helps them open their eyes to the wider world, he said.

A local newspaper had a big article about Japanese tourists coming to see the aurora borealis on its front page, he said.

Roald said attractive packages are a necessity when catering to Japanese because they are “very efficient travelers” who prefer to plan their trips in advance.

His concern about Japan is that travelers are mostly elderly who will eventually stop flying, and it is uncertain if young people will travel abroad.

Yet Roald expects the airline’s business in Japan to grow for the next five or six years. “Japan is promising,” he said.

SAS was founded in 1946 and began flying to and from Japan in 1951. It serves 1,160 cities in 181 countries. It has a flight between Tokyo and Copenhagen every day.