Japanese Planning Cheaper Trips

Sunday, July 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ Wary of terrorism and weary of economic hard times, Japanese tourists are turning to shorter summer holidays, cheaper and closer to home.

The new trend _ affecting one of the world's most globe-trotting nations _ is likely to be felt by the international tourism industry from Hawaii to Paris as Japanese cut back on overseas travel and see more of their own country.

According to the most recent federal figures, the number of Japanese booking foreign trips through Japan's top 50 travel agencies dropped 6 percent in May from the previous year to 350,651 people.

In contrast, visitors to domestic destinations rose 4.6 percent to 2.07 million.

The divergent trends are largely blamed on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan, which have discouraged many Japanese from heading overseas.

Japan's continuing economic slump _ marked by record unemployment and rising corporate bankruptcies _ has also led people to snap up less expensive domestic tours.

Bookings for overseas tours for July and August, the peak season when air fare and hotel rates are often set higher, are especially slow, with 10 percent to 20 percent fewer than the previous year, according to news reports.

Guam, Hawaii and the rest of the United States are especially unpopular, with Jalpack Co., an affiliate of Japan Airlines, making only half the bookings for its North American package tours as last year, the business daily Nihon Keizai reported.

At Japan's largest travel agency, Japan Travel Bureau, the number of people who booking overseas trips is down by 20 percent from the previous year, and down by more than 20 percent for the United States.

Some overseas destinations that are closer to Japan, however, have seen an increased, including Australia, New Zealand, China and other Asian destinations, according to the Land and Transportation Ministry survey.

Meanwhile, domestic tours have seen bookings climb by as much as 15 percent from last year, according to media reports. Among the more popular destinations are Tokyo Disneyland and its sister park Tokyo DisneySea, as well as rival Universal Studios in the western city of Osaka. July ticket sales to such theme parks through travel agencies jumped 75 percent on the year.

In response to slumping overseas travel, some agencies have introduced bargain packages.

Nippon Tourist now sells a family package for Hawaii that offers a 50 percent discount for children aged 2-12, while JTB is offering a free optional local tours to customers who buy air tickets to U.S. cities.