Dollar vs. yen: JNTO message touts Japan's affordability

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TOKYO -- Japan has traditionally been known as a costly destination, but the Japan National Tourist Organization has a new message for U.S. agents and tour operators: The destination has never been cheaper.

Toshihiko Sawada, executive vice president of the JNTO, said in an interview here that in April 1995, $1 equaled about 80 yen. As of Jan. 31, $1 was worth about 133 yen.

That doesn't make Japan "cheap," but it does make it more affordable.

"It's about time for [tour operators] to come up with new products," he said, emphasizing, for example, the cultural aspects of his country.

Japan attracted nearly 726,000 U.S. visitors in 2000, according to JNTO figures. More come for business than pleasure.

But Sawada said he has reason to hope U.S. agents and tour operators will be more active in promoting leisure travel to his country.

JNTO ad campaigns in the U.S. in 1999 and 2000 have persuaded many Americans that there is more to Japan than Honda, Toyota and Sony, Sawada said, with follow-up surveys showing U.S. interest in Japan increased more than interest in any other Asian destination.

From January to August 2001, the number of U.S. visitors to Japan increased by 1.6%, including a 6.9% increase in leisure travelers.

Travel fell off dramatically after Sept. 11, but JNTO said it hopes it is starting to rebound.

And, he added, travel retailers are becoming more involved. Last year, 1,810 U.S. agents registered in a new JNTO Japan travel specialist program.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Tour Operators Association will be in Japan this March for its out-of-country meeting.

The country also is gearing up to welcome 350,000 foreign visitors for the World Cup soccer tournament, which is being co-hosted by Japan and South Korea from May 31 to June 30.

The U.S. plays its first games in South Korea and will have to advance to play in Japan, but Sawada said he hopes the World Cup will increase awareness of the nation in any case.

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