Friday, March 19, 2004

Japanese travel
returning to normal

A spokesman for travel agency JTB
says Hawaii and Australia are popular

TOKYO >> Japanese are headed for the beach.

Plane and hotel bookings for Japan's spring travel season are soaring: reservations for points abroad have nearly doubled, while those for domestic destinations are up more than a third from last year, tour agencies said yesterday.

Travel agents say tourist traffic is getting back to normal now that SARS is no longer a threat. But some also say Japan's economic recovery is helping the uptick.

"Hawaii and Australia are particularly popular," said Hiroshi Ueno, a spokesman for JTB Corp., the country's largest travel agency. Rival agency Kinki Nippon Tourist says travelers want to go to resorts where they can "relax for long periods."

Thousands of Japanese take off for trips every year during the last week of April and the first week of May, when a string of national holidays create what Japanese have dubbed "Golden Week." This year, if holiday makers space their vacation days wisely, they can string together an 11-day break -- long by Japanese standards.

Many travelers' plans reflect this: Kinki Nippon said bookings for the Maldives -- a chain of 1,192 coral atolls southwest of India -- have tripled as vacationers take advantage of the lengthy break to travel long distances. The agency's reservations for New Zealand are up 140 percent, the company said.

Ueno said the rebound will bring the number of overseas travelers back to where it was in 2002, the year before the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Asia and Canada prompted thousands of Japanese to stay at home. SARS and the war in Iraq caused a 20 percent drop in overseas travel from Japan in 2003.

Japan's recovering economy, which lifted average corporate employee bonuses for the first time in two years this winter, also seems to be encouraging the travel rebound.

"Golden Week tours are expensive compared to the regular season," said Eiko Sato, a Kinki Nippon Tourist spokeswoman.

"The economy is improving a bit and this may be having an impact on the rise."


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