A pair of Japanese Golden week visitors was greeted at Honolulu International airport Sunday.

Japanese consumers
loosen purse strings
for Golden Week trips

Travel has taken an upward turn
despite the country's economy

By Ryoko Imaizumi
Bloomberg News

TOKYO >> Toshiko Kibe stopped for a cup of tea and paused to reflect on her 11-day trip to Germany after hustling off an airport bus packed with travelers returning from Golden Week vacations

"Japanese do have money, and prices are falling, so it's time to spend," said Kibe, who splashed $15,730 on three overseas vacations in the past year. "We say the economy is bad all the time, but no one is starving on the street."

The 42-year-old promotions coordinator was one of 358,800 travelers who went abroad from Tokyo during the holiday week, up 9 percent from a year earlier. After nine years of decline in household spending, attitudes like Kibe's may be gaining steam -- at least if crowds at the central Tokyo terminal for airport buses are an indication.

An estimated 22.5 million Japanese traveled between April 25 and May 5, according to JTB Corp., Japan's largest travel agency, falling only 1.7 percent short of a record high set last year. Tourists were encouraged by discounts of around 25 percent on some domestic package holidays.

The turnout surpassed the expectations of travel agents, who feared Golden Week spending would be squeezed this year by recession and lingering terrorism fears. Many trips were booked only a few weeks, rather than months, ahead of the holidays.

As recently as late March, Japanese travel agents feared this year's Golden Week would be one of the bleakest ever.

Agents saw no single reason for travelers' change of heart. Some credited pent-up demand, as many consumers canceled tours after Sept. 11's attacks, and said they were helped by increasing use of the Internet for last-minute bookings.

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