U.S. paralysis leaves travel agencies scrambling

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

The U.S. government shutdown that started at midnight Monday has impacted the global travel industry, with tourist agencies in Japan scrambling to avoid severe losses.

The failure of Democrats and Republicans to agree on a new budget saw the closure of 401 national parks, museums, zoos and other public attractions that draw Japanese tourists across the U.S.

“Such attractions as Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon are very popular with Japanese visitors,” a spokesman at Kinki Nippon Tourist Co., one of the nation’s largest travel agencies, told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “They are part of many package tours that our company offers.”

Asked about the potential impact on the firm’s business, he said it has already received cancellation requests from customers. He speculated, however, that the effect may not be significant.

“We can’t lie about the situation and it may have a larger impact (on our business) in the event of a longer shutdown,” the spokesman said. “But we are trying to resolve the situation by offering our customers other travel options.”

A spokeswoman for JTB Corp., the largest domestic travel agency, meanwhile said the U.S. paralysis has not yet affected its operations.

“We are now verifying the situation and trying to support our customers individually,” she said. “But since the travel summer season is over, we shouldn’t expect any major impact.”

Jalpak Co. is also trying to respond to customer needs by offering alternative tour options, said Sayuri Nobuhara from the company’s sales department. Jalpak was initially launched as a brand name under which Japan Airlines offered its first overseas package tours.

“We are trying to provide the best solution for each client on an individual basis,” said Nobuhara. “For customers who selected tours around Boston, Washington and New York, for instance, we are offering visits to Mount Vernon instead of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, as initially planned.”

Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington, the first U.S. president, in Fairfax County, Virginia, is one of the few tourist attractions that will remain open during the federal government shutdown.

The U.S. attractions that will be unaffected are operated by private institutions or other government entities that are still functioning.

According to local U.S. media, the closure of national parks may reportedly result in the loss of 750,000 visitors, and as much as $30 million, per day.

“In case of a longer shutdown we will have to replace the current tour options with alternative offers,” Jalpak’s Nobuhara said, while conceding the firm is still trying to assess the situation.

The U.S. government shutdown is the first in 17 years. The longest one lasted 21 days, from December 1995 through early January.

  • Christopher-trier

    Just go to Australia, New Zealand or Canada. All three countries are safer, the people nicer and the treatment is much, much better. The government are also far more functional. I’ve never quite understood the allure of the USA — the paranoia that begins before one arrives, the assumption that everyone is a criminal and terrorist, the poor quality of public transportation outside a few major urban centres couples with the high prices within them make the USA an expensive and unpleasant country to be. It’s also exceedingly expensive.