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Posted at 12:36 p.m., Monday, July 8, 2002

Japanese planning cheaper, closer-to-home trips

By Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press

TOKYO Wary of terrorism and weary of economic hard times, Japanese tourists are taking shorter, cheaper summer holidays and staying 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 Hawai'i to Paris as Japanese cut back on overseas travel and see more of their own country.

According to the most recent nationwide 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 reflect lingering concerns about safety after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan, which have discouraged many Japanese from heading overseas.

But another important factor is Japan's continuing economic slump marked by record unemployment and rising corporate bankruptcies which has led people to snap up less expensive domestic tours.

Tomoko Suzuki, 27, is a typical traveler this year.

"I'm planning a short trip with my family in autumn, after the summer's peak season is over," she said. "My friends are talking about traveling in Asia, because it's cheaper" than Hawai'i or other destinations farther away, she said. "Maybe next time."

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, Hawai'i 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 booking overseas trips is down by 20 percent from the previous year, and down by more than 20 percent for the United States.

"Bookings for foreign trips this year are slower than any year I can remember," said JTB spokeswoman Norie Kamiwatari.

Some overseas destinations that are closer to Japan, however, have seen an increase, including Australia, New Zealand and China, according to a 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.

Miki Yokokawa, a 24-year-old gym instructor, said she is planning to spend a long weekend at a hot springs in southern Japan later this month, then see what happens with prices before considering travel elsewhere.

"The idea is to take a brief vacation now and wait for prices to come down in late August or September to go abroad," she said.

To encourage travelers like Yokokawa, some agencies have introduced bargain packages.

Nippon Tourist now sells a family package for Hawai;i 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.