• The Associated Press


Japanese are headed for the beach.

Plane and hotel bookings for Japan’s spring travel season are soaring: Reservations for points abroad have nearly doubled, while those for domestic destinations are up more than a third from last year, tour agencies said Thursday.

Travel agents say tourist traffic is getting back to normal now that severe acute respiratory syndrome is no longer a threat. But some also say Japan’s economic recovery is helping the uptick.

“Hawaii and Australia are particularly popular,” said Hiroshi Ueno, a spokesman for JTB Corp., the country’s largest travel agency. Rival agency Kinki Nippon Tourist says travelers want to go to resorts where they can “relax for long periods.”

Thousands of Japanese take off every year during Golden Week — the last week of April and the first week of May. This year, if holiday makers space their vacation days wisely, they can string together an 11-day break — long by Japanese standards.

Many travelers’ plans reflect this. Kinki Nippon said bookings for the Maldives — a chain of 1,192 coral atolls southwest of India — have tripled as vacationers take advantage of the lengthy break to travel long distances. The agency’s reservations for New Zealand are up 140 percent, the company said.

Indonesia’s Bali and the Malaysian island resort of Penang are also hot destinations.

Ueno said the rebound will bring the number of overseas travelers back to where it was in 2002, the year before the outbreak of SARS in Asia and Canada prompted thousands of Japanese to stay at home.

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