In Japan, airlines, travel firms launch a discount drive

TOKYO - Travel agencies and air carriers in Japan have discounted their tour and flight fees for Kyushu as a measure to vitalize local tourism in the region’s seven prefectures, which has slumped since the Kumamoto Earthquake.

Using government subsidies, a system has also been launched to encourage discounted travel in Kyushu, with campaigns expected to be more popular as the summer vacation season approaches.

On Tuesday, All Nippon Airways announced discounted fares for specific September flights, including Haneda-Kumamoto.

The air carrier is also supporting Kyushu tourism by selling specialty products from the region at its affiliated souvenir stores at airports nationwide through the end of August.

During an ANA event held in Tokyo on Tuesday to mark the start of the campaign, ANA Holdings President Shinya Katanozaka said he wanted to see efforts by the firm “attract 100,000 tourists in the July-September period.”

Due to the effect of the Kumamoto Earthquake, the number of travelers staying overnight in the region has dropped. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, the occupancy rate for guest rooms at accommodation facilities in April was 51.4 percent, down 7.1 percentage points from a year earlier.

Among efforts to recover the number of travelers to the region, the Kyushu Fukko-wari (Discounts for Kyushu reconstruction) system is seen as the most promising. It was launched this month and is funded by government subsidies to facilitate discounted travel fees and accommodation rates in Kyushu’s prefectures.

Travel agencies have marketed products that utilize the system via the internet, with many of them sold out, including Kinki Nippon Tourist Co.’s accommodation discounts in Kyushu’s prefectures, except for Kumamoto and Miyazaki, for the period through the end of September.

Nippon Travel Agency has also seen an unusual level of popularity for its Kyushu tours, with sales of accommodation plans, mainly in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, quadrupling during the first three days of July on a year-on-year basis alone.

An NTA spokesperson said, “People’s consideration for the region’s reconstruction has led to the sales increase.”

Attracting foreign tourists is proving a challenge. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of South Korean visitors to Kyushu was 302,100 in May, down 4.2 percent from a year earlier and the first decrease in 23 months on a year-on-year basis. South Koreans used to be the driving force of the region’s tourism.

Each of Kyushu’s prefectures has asked overseas travel agencies to cooperate in organizing tours to the region, but some are said to have been cautious, citing the stronger yen as a headwind against travel to Japan, as well as negative perceptions of the safety of the quake-hit region.