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Without question, 2011 was a tough year for Japan. Epic disasters in March caused international visitors to rethink their travel plans, and tourism from the U.S. plummeted by 45 percent that month. Slowly, however, Japan is starting to see signs of improvement.
At the recent Visit Japan Travel Mart — hosted by the Japan Tourism Association (JTA) at the Yokohama Grand Pacifico Convention Center in Yokohama, Japan — tourism officials made every effort to reassure the industry that the country is safe to visit. Attendees received handouts citing world radiation levels, with the average radiation in New York City reportedly clocking in at twice that of Tokyo.
Furthermore, hosted buyers and media received many appointment requests from 400 sellers, representing local destinations and hotels, all of whom were eager to demonstrate that Japan has lost none of its allure.
While the marketing efforts of Japan’s tourism industry have not been without missteps — a JTA program to host 10,000 free flights to Japan in 2012 was ultimately rejected by the Japanese government — Japan has earmarked nearly $107 million for inbound travel marketing in 2012, according to Daisuke Tonai, director of the Japan National Tourism Organization’s (JNTO) Los Angeles office.
Current marketing programs include the “Japan Big Welcome Campaign,” where visitors can cash in on savings at nearly 8,000 retailers throughout Japan. Furthermore, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the date that Tokyo gifted the first cherry blossom trees to Washington, D.C. The tourism office is also hosting several Japan showcase events for travel agents in the Western U.S.
Statistics suggest that travelers are responding to Japan’s marketing efforts. In December, U.S. travel to Japan is estimated to have decreased by less than 5 percent from the same period last year, which is the first time the monthly decline has entered single digits since March.