NEW YORK -- For some Asia tour operators, a surge in interest in
Japan has been one of the pleasant surprises of early 2002.
Some operators reported a healthy resurgence in bookings after
the first of the year, to levels comparable with -- and, in some
cases, greater than -- one year ago.
Absolute Asia, based here, reported January bookings up 25% from
last year, with Japan leading the pack.
"Japan is extremely popular now," said Ken Fish, president of
Absolute Asia, which sells high-end packages to the region.
"Considering what we've had to endure, to find ourselves in that
position is surprising, pleasantly."
Rosaline Dustan, deputy managing director for Orient Flexi-Pax,
also based here, reported a brisk February. "It's better than last
year," she said.
And travel agents, such as Iweeta McIntosh, president of
McIntosh Tours of Richardson, Texas, also have noticed a rebound in
interest in Japan.
"There is more interest in people going. Now, Sept. 11 is
getting further away, and Asia has always been seen as safe."
Mamoru Kobori, director of the New York office of the Japan
National Tourist Organization (JNTO), said he has observed the same
"Many tour operators have reported that interest in Japan tours
seemed to pick up sharply," Kobori said, adding that the number of
callers to the JNTO office also has been on the rise since
Now, some tour operators are adding departures, he said.
In the new world following Sept. 11, Japan has shaped up as a
desirable destination as people begin traveling again.
"I think it has caught attention because it appears to be a shorter
distance, it's perceived as safe, and it's attractive for
families," said Fish.
Other contributing factors mentioned by Asia operators include
the favorable exchange rate for Americans. The dollar is worth
about 133 yen. It was worth about 115 a year ago.
Fish said Absolute Asia is seeing more growth in independent
travel rather than group travel.
This trend distinguishes Japan from most of its neighbors, where
there has been a resurgence in group travel interest, according to
"In the last few months, people are considering group travel
again for most of our destinations," she said. "But in Japan,
people mostly travel on an FIT basis. You can do a lot on your own
Tina Perkins, Asia operations specialist for General Tours-TBI
Tours, said, "We're seeing a larger increase in FIT than in
Perkins said the demand for Japan also has brought some
surprises, naming Nara and Hakone as two of the "big destinations"
Fish said he also has seen a boost in family travel in Japan,
which is a trend Japan shares with most other destinations in the
post-Sept. 11 world.
There exists another trend in which Japan mirrors the overall
travel industry -- travelers are booking their trips closer in than
"People are making last-minute plans," said Fish, citing clients
booking for March in late February."
The inauguration of American Airlines' nonstop service from New
York (Kennedy) to Tokyo on April 15 could boost traffic even more,
In Japan, the resurgence has been accomplished without major
price reductions, Fish said.
World Cup, USTOA could lift tourism
NEW YORK -- A couple of timely events could go a long way to
help bolster the future of Japan tourism.
First off, the U.S. Tour Operators Association is holding a
meeting in Japan through March 17, with 44 operators scheduled to
attend. This bodes well for Japan.
"The purpose is to expose Japan to the members who are
interested in selling it," said Bob Whitley, USTOA president.
"Eighteen countries bid on this meeting. The fact that the
members chose Japan is an indication there is interest."
The Japan National Tourist Office said it also hopes to get some
mileage from the World Cup soccer tournament, which will be held in
South Korea and Japan May 31 to June 30.
Mamoru Kobori, director of the New York JNTO, said 50,000
Americans are expected to travel to Japan for the occasion.