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Okinawa tourism decreases but persistant

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2001-11-21

Many businesses around the world have felt the impact of the September terrorist attacks in the United States, and as a result some industries have experienced significant decreases in sales. The travel and tourism industry on Okinawa has suffered substantial losses, but business is slowly getting back to normal. “Business is beginning to pick up again,” says Tony Sakuda, Plaza branch manager of the Okinawa Tourist Service (OTS). “With regards to members of the American community, they have to travel. They want to get back into their daily routine.” He says the Japanese, on the other hand, have been traveling closer to home. “The Japanese are cutting back on long-distance travel, and the Far East has become popular these days, especially China, Hong Kong, Korea and Vietnam,” Sakuda says.

“Airport security has become very tight on Okinawa as well as around the world, which is a good thing for helping people overcome their fear of flying after the devastating attacks on America. Also, airfares are decreasing due to plummeting business. Business is starting to pick up again, but it’s not back to normal yet. However, the holiday season will see a lot of travel, with families flying both overseas and domestically. The Sapporo Snow Fest in Hokkaido will be as popular a travel destination as ever in February,” he concludes.

As a special service to their customers and to encourage people to take to the skies again, OTS is offering a special travel plan to Hong Kong for $420 with departures on Nov. 14, 17, 24 and 28, as well as Dec. 1, 5, 8 and 12. The plan includes a round-trip ticket on Japan Airlines, transfer service between the airport and hotel, three breakfasts and a standard hotel room at The Empire, Kowloon, Stanford Hillview, BP International and other similar hotels. Package fare is ¥49,800 per person based on double occupancy, and there is no children’s rate. Other charges may apply. For more information, call OTS Plaza at 098-933-1152.

Zakir Khan, manager of the H.I.T. Okinawa travel branch, has noticed some of the same trends as Sakuda. “Business is picking up a little bit, but there is still more than a 50% decrease compared to last year,” he says. “We have almost zero reservations for people going on vacation.” Though few people are booking vacation reservations these days, many Americans are still going to the States to visit relatives. Living on Okinawa, far from family, many service members have no choice but to fly to America if they want to be with their loved ones during the holiday season. Another trend both have noticed is that rather than taking long flights, most Japanese are planning flights within the Far East rather than going to Europe and other tourist hot spots. “November and December are usually big business months, but there are almost no reservations for long flights,” says Khan. “People are trying to stay in their own country rather than leave.”

H.I.T. is also offering special airfare deals to motivate travelers to take to the skies once again. For only ¥62,000, you can fly anywhere in the United States on American Airlines. This deal expires on Dec. 20. If a short vacation is on your mind, round-trip tickets to Seoul, Korea, are selling for only ¥19,000. “I have never seen prices drop so low in all of my working experience,” adds Khan in astonishment.

Akiko Tamagawa, the sales manager at H.I.S., made many of the same observations on travel trends as Sakuda and Khan. According to Tamagawa, “There is a 25-30% decrease in reservations compared to October and November of last year, but things have been starting to pick up since the end of October. The active duty military people are making reservations and are ready to go back to the States, but they are not sure if their travel orders will come through.” Tamagawa feels that fear of flying has diminished somewhat on the American side but says most Japanese are still afraid to travel internationally. She also notes that the most recent American Airlines crash in New York opened up an old wound and that people are afraid to fly once again.

Most Okinawans stick to either traveling domestically to mainland Japan destinations or the Far East, to countries such as Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. H.I.S. is offering a special travel plan to Hong Kong. For ¥19,800 you can stay for two days and one night, or for ¥36,800 you can stay for four days and three nights. “Customers are beginning to travel in Asia again because most travel agencies are offering special Asia tours. Normally, our local customers would now be booking reservations to Hawaii for the end of December, but this hasn’t been happening so much now. Others have made reservations, but most aren’t sure yet,” Tamagawa says. For more information on H.I.S. special travel plans, call the Chatan office at 098-982-7600 or the Kadena Gate 2 office at 098-983-4620.

The Kariyushi Urban Resort in Naha has also seen a decrease in business since the September incidents. Tourism is much lower than last year, but it is gradually starting to pick up again. ”People are not scared once they are on Okinawa, but they are scared to fly,” says Takako Sakiyama, a front desk employee. “Once the guests arrive, they are not afraid. Life on Okinawa is not scary. Traveling is scary.”

She says that tourism dropped drastically after the terrorist attacks and that business is still mediocre. Many school trips have been cancelled due to fear of flying, and this has also hurt. The shipping industry, on the other hand, has survived. “People are not afraid to take boats between the islands,” says Sakiyama. “Ferry rides are still popular.” The hotel and port offer ferry trips to Kume Island and Ishigaki as well as fishing and diving trips. She expects whale-watching tours in February and March to be as popular as ever.

Hotels also attract guests with special campaigns. “Hotel prices have been decreased, and a special meal plan has taken effect to help tourists have a more enjoyable, relaxing stay on Okinawa. Our hotel would also like to invite local visitors to take advantage of our affordable lunch and dinner plans,” Sakiyama said.

The Kariyushi Urban Resort is located next to Tomari Port in the heart of Naha City. Pay parking is available at the adjacent parking garage. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information on the specials, drop by the hotel or call 098-860-2111.

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