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Japan is the single most important market for Thai Airways International, and despite the recent drop in customers due to the March 11 disasters, the carrier hopes to bring back customers to Japan as early as this summer with various promotional activities, according to executives of the firm who visited Tokyo earlier this week.

“I didn’t actually come here to assure myself that everything is OK in Japan. I already knew that everything is all right in Japan, but to discuss with people here on how we can boost confidence for the people in Thailand and elsewhere to visit Japan,” said Piyasvasti Amranand, president of Thai Airways, adding that the airline sees Japan as one of the best destinations that can attract customers in the long run.

He said his visit to Japan focused on moral support of staff and to discuss how to move forward and achieve recovery as rapidly as possible.

The March 11 earthquake, tsunami and the ongoing nuclear crisis immediately affected the number of tourists visiting Japan. According to Japan National Travel Organization, preliminary figures of visitors to Japan in March dropped 50 percent from the same month last year. Thais visiting Japan last month dropped 58.7 percent from March 2010, it said.

Amranand said Thai Airways previously had 59 flights per week from Bangkok to Japan. Since the disaster, seat occupancy rates plunged significantly from about 80 percent to around 50 percent, particularly affecting traffic from Thailand to Japan, where demand is normally high during this time of year. “Immediately after the earthquake, we got cancellation,” he said. In late March, the airline reduced one of three flights between Bangkok and Narita, currently operating a total of 52 flights per week.

But Amranand hopes the recent passenger decline will be temporary, as it has already initiated various promotional campaigns, including bringing journalists from Thailand to Japan to see and write about the current situation.

These efforts may convince customers who recently canceled trips to come in July or August and help promote inbound visits, said Executive Vice President Pandit Chanapai, who was with Amranand.

“I think Thai Airways is in a position to be a spokesperson for Japan in terms of bringing tourists,” Chanapai said. More Asian press education tours, consisting of journalists from Thailand and other regions important to the airline, will follow, visiting various tourist attractions in Japan to experience the situation firsthand and write about them, he said.

TV programs and newspaper articles featuring Japan’s tourist attractions, including cherry blossoms, already appeared in Thai media, and there will be more to come in the future, he said.

As for Japanese tourists, some stopped traveling abroad for leisure on a temporary basis. But Amranand said bookings for the Golden Week holidays seem all right and he hopes to see an improvement after that.

Though the details have yet to be announced, the airline will introduce discounted fares for its 51st anniversary, which is May 1, for travel from Japan.

While in Japan, Amranand and Chanapai also met with their Star Alliance partner, All Nippon Airways, to collaborate on further promotions to bring back tourists to Japan.

As disaster relief, the airline transported cargo free of charge, with supplies from the Thai government, companies and NPOs, including canned food, bottled water and blankets. Amranand also delivered donations raised by the airline’s employees to the Japanese ambassador in Bangkok.

Along with sending his deepest condolences, Amranand said all company activities were undertaken from deep concern for the people of Japan. “I am sure that Japan is able to come through this in a relatively short period, given the strength of the Japanese people.”

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