Tuesday’s volcanic eruption near a ski resort in Gunma Prefecture, which left one dead and injured 11, is also impacting the local economy as visitors from Japan and overseas turn away from the popular travel destination.
Northwestern Gunma Prefecture’s Mount Moto-Shirane towers above the town of Kusatsu, which is known for its namesake hot springs. The town has been ranked Japan’s most popular hot spring resort for 15 years in a row by sightseeing economy newspaper publisher Kankokeizai News Corp.
“As the volcano is seven kilometers away from this town, it hasn’t been affected by lava debris or volcanic ash,” said a town official who asked for his name to be withheld. “Visitors can be safe here.”
But local business operators are concerned that reports about the eruption may have undermined the region’s reputation and prompted groundless fears, discouraging many foreign tourists.
“We’d received multiple reservations ahead of the holiday season in February but after the eruption we had 20 requests to cancel bookings, including from foreign clients,” said Yoshinori Mizuno of Kusatsu Onsen Futabaya, a hotel located in the heart of Kusatsu.
“The city hasn’t been affected; we’re operating as usual. We didn’t even notice the eruption in this area,” Mizuno said. “But now that this area has a bad name, all the hotel operators are in trouble.”
Mizuno said overseas tourists, mostly from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand, account for about half of the hotel’s customers. He said the hotel usually sees an increase in the number of tourists around the time of Lunar New Year celebrations, with visitors coming to see the snow and enjoy the hot springs.
Hideki Fukazawa, manager of the Kusatsu Now Resort Hotel, also expressed fear that news on the eruption spreading around the world may discourage foreign tourists from visiting Kusatsu.
“We haven’t received any cancellation requests yet and have one client considering whether to cancel the reservation, but this fuss around (the eruption) may affect further bookings,” he said.
Fukazawa said the hotel is popular with tourists from Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries, who account for about 90 percent of its foreign customers.