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Islands dispute with China may hurt Japanese tourism recovery

Written by editor

The recent purchase of the Diaoyu Islands by the Japanese government has cast a shadow over the nation’s recovering tourism industry.

The recent purchase of the Diaoyu Islands by the Japanese government has cast a shadow over the nation’s recovering tourism industry.

According to China’s major travel agencies, many tourists are canceling trips to Japan following the incident.

China Comfort Travel Group Co Ltd, one of the leading Chinese travel agencies, announced that its 220 branches and 5,500 offices across the country have stopped organizing tours to Japan since Wednesday.

“Almost all the tours to Japan after Sept 16 have been canceled,” said Ding Qingyuan, general manager of Jiangsu China Travel Service’s outbound tour center.

As a result, China Comfort Travel Group terminated a contract to send 50,000 Chinese tourists to Japan, which was signed earlier this year to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan.

Gu Zhen, a representative of Nanjing Youhao International Travel Service, said that the number of tourists choosing Japan as a travel destination during the National Day Holiday has dropped by 30 to 50 percent compared with the same period last year.

Most travel agencies in cities in Jiangsu province, such as Suzhou, Nantong and Jiangyin, have also suspended tours to Japan.

“The travel agency has stopped advertising tours to Japan, and all the tourists canceling tours to Japan are allowed a full refund,” said Li Meng, deputy general manager of China International Travel Service’s outbound tour department.

“The cancellation will bring huge financial loss to the travel agency,” said Li.

About 20 percent of tourists from Shanghai have also canceled their travel plans to Japan, according to major travel agencies in Shanghai.

“We value the friendship between China and other countries, but we won’t make any concession on issues concerning sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Yang Jun, a spokesman for the Shanghai government.

Fading hopes

People working in China-Japan tourism have expressed concern that Japan will be unable to recover from last year’s slump.

Japan had planned to boost its tourism sector by attracting more Chinese tourists, the second-largest source of travelers to Japan behind South Korea.

In July 2011, Japan eased travel requirements for Chinese mainland tourists by offering multiple-entry visas with a lower income threshold and longer stay duration, hoping to revive Japanese tourism, which had taken a hit from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of Chinese tourists in 2011 reached 1.05 million.

Mochizuki Yasuhiro, a coordinator at Sapporo Convention Bureau, who speaks fluent Chinese, expressed concern about the actions of the Japanese government.

“I pay attention to political issues between the two countries. As a matter of fact, right-wing politicians in Japan are seen as only a small group of ‘different and strange people’. Most Japanese are ordinary people like me,” Yasuhiro said.

“Japan has 120 million people. The right-wing groups definitely don’t represent all of us. However, we ordinary citizens can’t prevent them from voicing their opinions and acting on their convictions,” Yasuhiro said.

Tang Xiaoyun, an associate professor with the China Tourism Academy, said that Japan had been one of the hottest travel destinations for Chinese people, especially after it eased its visa policies to attract more Chinese tourists.

“There’s a possibility that there will be more cancellations if China-Japan ties get worse.”

The political tension is already affecting travel from Guangdong province to Japan, said Masaki Hirata, executive director of the Japan National Tourism Organization’s Hong Kong office.

The future of Japan-bound tourism will depend on how the situation evolves, he said.