Weaker yen helps, hurts travel industry

JIJI

The weak yen has impacted the nation’s travel industry both positively and negatively, with the number of foreign travelers to Japan rising but the number of Japanese traveling abroad falling.

Foreign visitors to Japan in January-April jumped 18.0 percent from a year earlier to 3,178,100, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. For the full year, the figure is expected to reach 9.87 million, far higher than the 8.61 million in 2010.

April-June sales of tour packages to Japan surged 84 percent from a year before, according to Nippon Travel Agency Co.

Many foreigners are now deciding to visit after seeing favorable exchange rates, a Nippon Travel representative said, adding that the company’s Japan-bound travel division is so busy it is crying out for more manpower.

Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo Co. said its flagship hotel in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward saw the number of foreign guests recover from zero in the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 disasters and ensuing nuclear crisis to account for 60 percent of the hotel’s total guest numbers.

Aiming to lure more foreign guests in the busy summer season, the hotel will install free wireless LAN (local area network) connections in all of its 1,436 rooms.

Meanwhile, the number of Japanese travelers overseas in January-April dropped 6.1 percent from a year before to 5.68 million. As well as the weaker yen, the fall reflected the declining number of Japanese travelers to China and South Korea, due to deteriorating bilateral relations with both countries.

This year, the number of Japanese traveling abroad is expected to fall by 1.2 million from the previous year to some 17.3 million.

Sales of overseas trips at 58 major Japanese travel agencies fell for the second straight month in March, the Japan Tourism Agency said.

The weaker yen is a mixed blessing for travel companies because a rise in the number of foreign visitors offsets a drop in that of Japanese traveling abroad, a senior travel company official said.

Still, domestic travel agencies’ sales from trips to Japan are equivalent to a thirtieth of their sales of trips from Japan.

If sales of trips abroad continue to fall with individual spending remaining sluggish, it will not be possible to cover the sales drop through possible growth in the number of foreign visits to Japan, a senior official at another travel agency said.