LEXINGTON, Kentucky – Japan’s tourism infrastructure is nearing a full recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. But while airports, bullet trains, and attractions are up and running at full speed, tourist arrivals continue to lag behind. Overall visitation in May was down 50 percent from 2010.
Japan is about to receive a shot of support, though, from a team of travel professionals. “Rediscovering Japan—USTOA/NTA Mission 2011” is a delegation of leaders from two associations — the US Tour Operators Association and NTA — visiting the island nation June 21-26. The delegation will meet with Japanese tourism officials, visit popular destinations, and assess overall travel conditions. By putting travel professionals on the ground, the entire industry can better understand the current situation, according to NTA Chairman Cathy Greteman.
“It’s one thing for tour operators to hear from Japanese officials that it’s safe to visit Japan, but the same message will carry more weight when it comes from their colleagues,” said Greteman, who owns Star Destinations in Carroll, Iowa.
The delegation has a full itinerary, which includes tours of Tokyo and Mount Fuji, along with signature Japanese experiences: a cooking class after visiting the Tsukiji fish market, dinner at Kanga-An Temple, a cruise on Lake Hakone, and a geisha performance at one of Kyoto’s oldest tea houses. In addition, the group will meet with the president of the Japan National Tourism Organization and other tourism officials.
Rediscovering Japan is not the first mission undertaken jointly by the two associations. “I traveled with a USTOA/NTA delegation to Egypt and Jordan this spring, and I know for certain our visit had a positive impact on restoring tourism to the region,” said Terry Dale, president of USTOA, “We owe it to our members and to the affected destinations to help get the story out — accurately.”
The world focused on the destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami — and a threat to a nuclear power plant — but news of the nation’s recovery has not garnered as much attention. Japan is open for tourism, though, said Satoshi Asano, director of the Japan National Tourist Organization’s New York City office.
“Japan is absolutely safe, enjoyable — and as fascinating as ever,” Asano said, “We have benefitted from the support of tourism partners worldwide, along with a heroic effort from Japanese citizens. I am confident the NTA-USTOA delegation will have a positive experience.”
Asano added that most of the March 11 earthquake damage was limited to the northeastern corner of the country. He said that nearly all the country’s temples, museums, and inns are open — along with Tokyo Disney Resort.
The “Rediscovering Japan” delegation, to be joined by trade media in Japan, includes the following tourism professionals:
• Rob Eramia, TUI Travel; member, USTOA
• Cathy Greteman, Star Destinations; chairman, NTA
• Laudie Hanou, SITA World Tours; member, USTOA
• Tatiana Johnston, Big Five Tours; member, NTA
• Diane Molzan, Goway; member, USTOA
• Jim Reddekopp, Earth Bound Tours; vice chairman, NTA
• Olga Reynoso, Ritz Tours; member, NTA and USTOA
• Richard Rosenfeld, Senior Account Executive, Worldstrides; member, NTA and USTOA
ABOUT NTA: Now celebrating its 60th year, NTA is the leading business-building association for travel professionals interested in the North American market — inbound, outbound, and within the continent. Formerly the National Tour Association, the organization became NTA when its global membership (more than 40 countries) and focus exceeded its name. For more information, visit http://www.ntaonline.com/ .
ABOUT USTOA: Founded in 1972, USTOA member companies have met the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the association’s Travelers Assistance Program, which among other things protects consumer payments up to US$1 million in case the company goes out of business. USTOA is the premier association of companies providing vacation packages, tours, and custom travel itineraries for more than 11 million people yearly.