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Hokkaido appeals for return of tourists after sharp decline following quake

Foreign tourists are seen at New Chitose Airport in Chitose, Hokkaido, on Sept. 8, 2018. (Mainichi)

SAPPORO -- The tourism industry in Hokkaido is desperately trying to attract visitors from across the country in the face of a sharp drop in their numbers following the magnitude-6.7 earthquake that jolted the area on Sept. 6.

Following the disaster, tour organizers and hotels have been flooded with cancellations for reservations, and a variety of events have been called off.

"I'd like people across the country to support Hokkaido's disaster recovery by visiting the prefecture," a tourism industry insider said.

Kazufumi Onishi, mayor of Kumamoto that was hit by powerful quakes in 2016, posted a message of support on his Twitter account on Sept. 14, "Please visit Hokkaido for your holidays. Just staying overnight and enjoying local food will support disaster recovery efforts."

Onishi also recalled that following the Kumamoto quake, Kyushu areas that are far away from the epicenter and did not suffer damage in the disaster were also flooded with cancellations for tours and accommodations.

Hokkaido is visited by numerous Japanese and foreign tourists in autumn. Flights are now operated almost as scheduled and most hotels in tourist spots can accommodate guests as usual. However, the disaster has dealt a serious blow to the local tourism industry.

Since the temblor, at least 942,000 people have cancelled their reservations for hotel rooms in Hokkaido, at an estimated cost of over 11.7 billion yen. If income from bus and boat tours, shopping at souvenir shops and other tourism-related consumption are factored in, the amount of losses suffered by the whole tourism industry in the prefecture is estimated at nearly 29.2 billion yen and is feared to further increase.

Various events have been called off in Hokkaido since the deadly quake. On Sept. 7, the Japanese national soccer team's international friendly game at Sapporo Dome against Chile was cancelled.

Moreover, a gathering aimed at promoting winter sports that had been scheduled to be held in Sapporo on Sept. 15 was cancelled while the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market called off an annual fair on Sept. 16 designed to expand consumption due to safety concerns.

The Sapporo Autumn Fest, originally scheduled for Sept. 7, was postponed to Sept. 15.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said an inspection tour of Hokkaido involving travel agencies and journalists from 15 countries abroad will be held to send a message to the world that Hokkaido is safe and encourage inbound tourists to visit the prefecture.

Gov. Harumi Takahashi said, "Many organizers have refrained from going ahead with various events, but I'd like some of these to be held."

Tourism associations are trying to attract tourists by offering discounts or special donation campaigns.

The Otaru Tourism Association in the city of Otaru has launched a campaign in which eight participating hotels and inns donate 100 yen out of accommodation fees from each guest per night to disaster-hit areas. The association aims to secure 100,000 yen in donations by the end of this month.

"We'd like prospective visitors to know that local accommodation facilities are open as usual," said an association official.

The Jozankei Tourism Association in a hot spa resort area in the outskirts of Sapporo has reduced the fee for hot spring bathing at nine facilities in the area by half, which will be effective until Sept. 20.

Those who make reservations at hot spa inns from Sept. 17 will receive a 2,000 yen coupon per person per stay.

Noting that some facilities have drastically reduced accommodation fees since the quake, the association says, "If you use the coupon, you can stay at hot spa inns at quite reasonable prices."

(Japanese original by Chie Yamashita, Hokkaido News Department, and Tomoe Sanpei, Oshu Local Bureau/Morioka Bureau)

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