A bittersweet boon for WTTC event host Japan

By Johanna Jainchill
Japan had already been scheduled to host the World Travel & Tourism Council's (WTTC) 12th annual summit this year before the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the northeast of the country on March 11, 2011.

At the WTTC's conference in Las Vegas last year, WTTC CEO David Scowsill pledged the summit would take place there as planned. He upped that commitment when he said half the event would be held in Sendai, the city that became a symbol of the tsunami's destruction. Sendai and Tokyo will split hosting duties for the summit this week. A year later, tourism in Japan is still suffering from the fallout of the earthquake.

Despite a campaign by business leaders, including Toshiba CEO Atsutoshi Nishida, chairman of the Japan host committee for this year's summit, to convince the world that "Japanese tourism is safe," and despite a $75 million grant from the Japanese government to promote international tourism to the country, tourist arrivals to Japan are still below pre-tsunami levels.

Reporting on flights from the U.S., Japan's largest tourist source market outside of Asia, ARC said that air ticket volumes have remained below historical levels since the earthquake struck.

However, ARC also found that forward-looking departure data indicated there could be a recovery this year.

Analyzing more than 3 million air tickets from the U.S. to Japan from Jan. 1, 2009, to Feb. 29, 2012, ARC said ticket sales began to slip in April 2011, when transactions finished at 32% below 2010 and 38% below 2009 levels.

Sales and departures remained below both 2009 and 2010 for the duration of 2011, ARC found. But beginning in 2012, they moved upward, surpassing 2009 levels in January (by 3%) and February (by 7%).

Chuck Thackston, managing director of data and analytics at ARC, said the company has been closely following the data to see when volume would return to normal.

"Although we did not see that happen in the later part of last year, we are cautiously optimistic that recovery is beginning based on the first two months of this year," he said.

ARC also found that future departures could indicate a developing recovery: March and April 2012 departures are ahead of 2009, while May and June 2012 departures exceed all years since 2009.

Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.
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