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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Holiday travel exceeds Narita airport forecast

By Tsutomu Sakurai and Desmond Hutton
Bloomberg News Service

TOKYO — Tokyo's main international airport at Narita reported that passenger numbers fell less than expected over the New Year's period, as Japanese travelers took advantage of cheap fares and long holidays to go abroad.

More than 1 million travelers entered and left Japan through Narita between Dec. 21 and Jan. 7, 14 percent fewer than in the same period a year earlier, the New Tokyo International Airport said in a statement. Outbound passengers numbered 505,000, down 16 percent from a year earlier, while the number entering the country declined 11 percent to 499,000.

"We had forecast a 19.2 percent (overall) fall, but the results were better than that," said airport spokeswoman Yumiko Abiru. "Travel agents have been offering cheap tour packages, and the way the New Year's holidays fell this year meant that there were 10 continuous days off."

The figures show Japan's travel industry may be drawing wary consumers back onto international flights with discount packages, even though the country's third recession in a decade will probably delay a sustained recovery. Fewer passengers are flying since the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. triggered security fears, and airlines have been trying to stem losses by reducing capacity, especially on flights to North America.

The total number of flights at Narita decreased 3.7 percent to 6,094, while the number of passenger flights decreased 4.8 percent to 5,311, the release said.

Japan Airlines Co., Asia's biggest carrier, said this month that it carried 15 percent fewer passengers than last year, or 292,984 people, on overseas routes operated by the group between Dec. 22 and Jan. 6.

All Nippon Airways Co., Asia's No. 2 carrier, said passenger numbers fell 23 percent to 74,541 in the same period. Japan Air System Co., the country's third-biggest carrier, reported a 7.6 percent gain in overseas travelers to 15,086.

Passenger numbers at Narita fell by a third in November from a year earlier, to 1.5 million. Figures for December will be released Jan. 31, Abiru said.

A quarterly survey released earlier this month by the Japan Association of Travel Agents showed a 4-point improvement in industry sentiment, expressed as a demand index, for the January to March period. The index stood at -96, compared with -100 three months earlier, when all the survey's respondents predicted falling demand over the quarter.

The association expects demand to remain "at the bottom of the range" during this quarter, improving later, it said in a Jan. 11 statement.