Japan's leisure market from U.S. on upswing

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NEW YORK -- Japan tourism is leading a life of leisure. Figures for February released by the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) are showing that leisure travel from the U.S. is booming.

In February, the segment jumped 21% year-over-year, and the number of leisure travelers to the region surged ahead of the number of business travelers.

Although February is the most recent month for which complete figures are available, it is likely that numbers for later months will be even more impressive, said a spokeswoman for the JNTO.

"I can't wait to see the figures for April," she said. "April is when American [Airlines] started its new service to Japan with a big promotional campaign and when airline prices went down.

"That's also when most of the tours began operating for the spring travel season," she said. "The travel in February is almost all FIT, just people taking off and going on their own."

In addition, leisure travelers will be greeted with a number of new properties that recently opened. See sidebar below.

A Japanese garden in Yokohama offers a respite.The spokeswoman cited three reasons she believes account for the increased number of U.S. leisure travelers to Japan:
• The destination is considered safe.
• The dollar is strong against the yen.
• There is an increase in tour and cruise product to the country.

"There weren't enough options of tours to Japan," she said. "Now there are 86 tour operators on our Web site."

"Five years ago, we couldn't even put a booklet together," she added, noting that the JNTO's hotel partners also are promoting the destination.

Overall, visits for February showed a modest gain of 2.5% in U.S. arrivals over the previous year despite the drop in business travel after Sept. 11.

The number of U.S. visitors to Japan grew every year from 1995 until 2001, when it fell to a lower level than in 1999. The JNTO is projecting the number of visitors in 2002 to rise to the level of 2000.

The World Cup soccer tournament, which finished its monthlong run at the end of June, should go a long way to giving those numbers a big kick for the year, she said.

"Two-thirds of those who came for the games were first-time visitors," she said. "It's a new market because these are people who came just for the games. But [there's been a lot written] about how friendly people are, about what a great country it is. Some may come back again."

For more information, call the JNTO at (212) 757-5641 or visit www.jnto.go.jp.

Stay awhile: New hotels bring options

NEW YORK -- Here's a recap of Japan's recent hotel openings:

• The Phoenix Seagaia Resort opened in Miyazaki, a complex that includes the 753-room Sheraton Grande Ocean Resort and the 296-room Sheraton Phoenix Golf Resort.

• Keio Electric Railways, the parent company of the Keio Plaza Hotel, in February opened its no-frills, 246-room Presso-Inn Higashi-Ginza in the Ginza section of Tokyo.

• The 516-room Westin Miyako opened in Kyoto.

• In April, the Shinagawa Prince Hotel opened its 672-room executive tower building in Shinagawa.

• JAL Hotels opened its 52nd hotel, the 641-room Hotel Nikko Bayside Osaka, in April. The property is at the entrance to Universal Studios Japan.

• The Celestine Hotel, with 243 rooms, is scheduled to open July 7 in Shiba.

• On Oct. 4, the 57-room Four Seasons Hotel Marunouchi will debut in Marunouchi near the Tokyo Station.

• Spring 2003 is the opening date for the 390-room Grand Hyatt Hotel Tokyo in Roppongi.

• In July 2003, the Royal Park Hotel, featuring 495 rooms, will open in Shiodome near Shimbashi. Also set for summer 2003, the 277-room Shiba Park Hotel will open.

• The Villa Fontaine is scheduled to open in October 2004 with 495 rooms.

• In summer 2005, the 350-room St. Regis will open in Shiodome.

• The Mandarin Oriental Hotel will open in Nihombashi in 2006.

• The Peninsula Tokyo is scheduled to open in Hibiya in 2006.

-- D.C.

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