Chinese tourists return to Japan

Updated: 2014-03-03 14:59

By Wang Wen (China Daily USA)

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The number of Chinese tourists traveling to Japan may return to the level before September 2012, when territorial disputes erupted between the two neighbors, according to Chinese experts and industry players.

There has been a rapid recovery in the figures in recent months, showing the effects of the disputes is fading, said Jiang Yiyi, director of the China Tourism Academy's International Tourism Development Institute.

Relations became strained following Japan's illegal "purchase" of China's Diaoyu Islands in September 2012.

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says 145,799 Japanese visas were sent to Chinese residents in January, a record high since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in late 2012.

Jiang said, "Chinese residents accept Japan as a destination again", adding that a weak yen and a relaxation in visa policies helped to attract Chinese tourists.

"If the two countries are not embroiled in further dramatic political events, Chinese tourism to Japan will recover gradually this year," Jiang said.

She said she expects the number of Chinese tourists to Japan to return to levels before the territorial disputes erupted.

In 2012, 1.43 million Chinese visited Japan, but the number dropped to 980,000 last year.

Yang Dong, director of the Japan and South Korea region for International's tourism department, said repressed demand from Chinese who scrapped travel plans to Japan amid the political tension may be unleashed this year.

Liu Xi, a 29-year-old Beijing resident, went on a seven-day trip to Japan during Spring Festival in February.

She said she was a little worried about Japanese people's attitude toward Chinese because of the territorial disputes, but most Japanese turned out to be friendly.

All Nippon Airways, which runs more than 50 daily flights between Japan and 10 Chinese destinations, changed some of its flights to China to be operated by single-aisle aircraft when passenger numbers fell sharply in late 2012.

But all its China flights are now being operated by wide-bodied planes again, said Atsushi Yabuki, sales and administration director at the carrier's regional headquarters for China.

"The average load factor on our China-Japan routes is about 70 percent now, although Japanese passenger numbers are still low," he said.

The airline also expects to expand its network in China and will keep applying for more flights between Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, he said.

Chinese airlines have seen their business recover in recent months. Ding Yue, spokesman for Air China, said, "Every carrier is adding capacity to Japanese routes and passenger numbers will return to the level before the territorial disputes."

China Eastern Airlines, with the most destinations in Japan among Chinese carriers, said it expects much better business this year than in 2013.

A manager at BTG International Travel and Tours, who declined to be identified, said, "Business with Japan is good and the next two months are the traditional peak for Japanese tourism with the arrival of the cherry blossom season."

But last year, 2.88 million Japanese tourists visited China, an 18.21 percent year-on-year decline, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

Shoichiro Horii, marketing and sales manager for All Nippon Airways' regional headquarters for China, said the strained relations between the two countries are a main concern for Japanese people.

"Air pollution and the appreciation of the yuan are other reasons," he said.

                                              (China Daily USA 03/03/2014 page5)