Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bookings for Japan tours on the rise

Source Website:
Lei Jiahui,, my paper | Fri, May 20 2011 Additional reporting by Jecolia Tong

PHOTO: A horse-drawn buggy at Wakka Wild Flower Park, Hokkaido.

S'poreans are starting to be aware of the fact that some parts of Japan are quite safe and unaffected: tour agency.

MADAM Janet Chua was looking forward to a holiday in Japan with her husband, when the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck the country and made her put her travel plans for next month on hold.

The 48-year-old hawker gave it a second thought two weeks ago, only when she chanced upon a tour-package offer to the Japanese island of Hokkaido. It was too good to be true - priced about $900 cheaper than usual.

PHOTO: Okinawa's early Sakura (January 23, 2011)

"It was such a good offer, I didn't want to miss the opportunity," she said.

Madam Chua eventually booked a seven-day trip for about $1,800 a person, inclusive of taxes, with travel agency CTC Travel. A similar tax- inclusive package previously cost $2,800.

She said she was assured by her Japanese friends that the situation in Hokkaido is stable, following the nuclear crisis faced by Japan.

PHOTO: The Daibutsu Kamakura, a 13.35-metre tall Buddha statue located in Yokohama, Japan.

Madam Chua is among a growing number of Singaporeans taking up sizzling-hot deals and promotions that have been rolled out extensively by tour agencies here in the past two months, in order to revive tourists' interest in Japan.

Tour agencies my paper spoke to said that while demand for Japan travel hit rock bottom in March, bookings have started showing signs of an upswing.

PHOTO: Izu Peninsula in February. Spring is coming, seeing the cherry blossoming is an exclusive and unique romantic experience. (January 13, 2011)

"People are slowly becoming open to Japan travel again. Of course, it (the take-up rate) is nowhere near the pre-crisis level, but it is a work in progress," said Ms Eva Wu, the marketing and communications manager of Sino-America Tours.

The agency will lead 12 tour groups from Singapore to Hokkaido over the next two months. CTC Travel said it also has about 300 people bound for places in Japan, such as Hokkaido, Tokyo and Osaka, over the same period.

PHOTO: Japan Summer Manga Tour, 17-24 August 2011
SOLD OUT - But there are still a few spaces remaining for Summer Manga Tour II
- (Haruka-chan_221c.jpg)

Tour agencies are optimistic that Singaporeans will choose to holiday in Japan again.

Ms Michelle Yin, marketing-communications manager of Chan Brothers Travel, said: "Singaporeans are starting to be aware of the fact that some parts of Japan are quite safe and unaffected. We are quite confident, considering the current momentum."

PHOTO: Japanese geishas in traditional dresses, walk around near Sensoji temple, one of major tourist attractions in town, in downtown Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, March 26, 2011. The triple disaster of March 11's magnitude-9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis has set back a Japanese government campaign to boost tourism to help shake off economic malaise. (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)

The tour agency has seen 30 new bookings in the past few weeks and have a total of 20 tours set to depart from next month. Ms Susan Ong, manager of the Japan National Tourism Organization Singapore, said that the lifting of the advisory against non-essential travel to Japan by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week helped to boost the confidence of travellers.

She added that the fourth quarter of the year is likely to be when a "steep increase" in tour bookings will be noticed.

PHOTO: Administrative officer Pat Chong and her husband visited Japan without fear about two weeks after the tsunami hit, as they knew unaffected spots were safe.

Administrative officer Pat Chong, 42, went on a 15-day tour around the regions of central Honshu and Kansai with her husband about two weeks after the tsunami rocked Japan.

She said she had no reservations about heading there and was certain that it was safe, because the places she visited were unaffected.

"If you go to the key tourist spots, it is pretty much business as usual. It can be quite crowded."


Promotional carrots for tourists
The June school holidays are around the corner and travel agencies have stepped up efforts to entice Singaporeans to travel to Japan.

Here are some of the Japan travel promotions lined up:

  • Travel agent JTB is offering free-and-easy packages to popular locations in Japan such as Tokyo, Hokkaido, Osaka and Kyushu. Mr Eddie Ung, JTB's manager of outbound leisure, said that Tokyo remains the most popular. Tour packages to Tokyo (including a two-night stay and flights on Singapore Airlines) are now being offered at $388. The promotion ends on May 30. At its lowest, a similar package cost only $148.
  • Travel agent Chan Brothers has also offered attractive tour deals, like the 5 Days Japan Alpine Allure 1-for-1 at $1,688 for two persons, and the 7 Days Hokkaido Passion at $1,488, usually priced at $1,988.
  • Mr Wyne Png, business manager of H.I.S. International Travel, also noted that many online buying websites like Groupon are drumming up interest in Japan tours.
  • Changi Airport Group will partner the Japan National Tourism Organisation through a promotional campaign to support travel agencies and airlines promoting travel to Japan.
By Lei Jiahui,, my paper | Fri, May 20 2011 Additional reporting by Jecolia Tong

PHOTO: The Northern Trail (Small Group Tour)

我的字典: Wǒ de zì diǎn

Hokkaido: 北海道 - běi hǎi dào
Tour agencies: 旅行社 - lǚ xíng shè
Optimistic: 乐观 - lè guān
Reservation: 顾虑 - gù lǜ

PHOTO: "Dressed in a traditional kimono, furisode and okobo a young women training to become a geisha poses for a portrait near the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2008. Women who wish to become geisha now most often begin their training after completing junior or high school."

PHOTO: Lascivious Geisha painting

PHOTO: The Asakusa samba carnival is held in Asakusa, Tokyo on 28th of August. It is the largest samba carnival in Japan. The carnival was started in 1981 to vitalize tourism and boost the downtown economy. It is held on the last Saturday of August every year.

The event is modeled after the Rio Carnival in Brazil. Samba schools from all over Japan parade in their own specialized costumes, getting into the rhythm of samba. The parade also serves as a samba contest.

The samba schools compete with each other with their dancing skills. A samba school from Brazil also appears in the samba show. Less than 10 minutes walk from Annex/Smile. Do not be lazy, go to the festival!! Samba!!