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Economy impacts construction, but not tourism

Date Posted: 2009-02-12

Tourists continue to visit Okinawa in near record numbers, despite the global economic downturn that has triggered declines in mainland Japan visitors.

Okinawa tourism officials are, in fact, smiling over figures that show tourists coming in larger numbers than a year ago. As the financial crisis began sweeping across the mainland last Fall, travel plans were downsized and Okinawa is reaping benefits of vacations being taken closer to home. Officials say tourism traffic is up, citing the complete statistics from October, which saw a 5.3% rise over 2007.

Hidemitsu Nakada says “There are no indications of any major drop in tourism demand in Okinawa.” He should know; he’s director general of Okinawa Prefecture’s Department of Tourism, Commerce and Industry. Not everyone is quite as optimistic for the longer term, including Ryugin Research Institute’s Moritatsu Higa. “Tourism will be the first victim of the economic deterioration,” he predicts, noting “Okinawa tourism is supported by the mainland and other countries,” and says as money becomes more tight, “declines in inbound travel and investments could lead to a tourism industry slowdown.”

The slowdown is already hammering hard at construction projects on Okinawa. The Fuchaku Resort Okinawa Condo Hotels, a sprawling 248 home resort complex adjacent to Highway 58 in Onna Village was put on hold after Zephyr Company failed. Zephyr, a Tokyo-based developer, was supposed to open the project in late 2008, but suspended the project when about 80% complete.

Zephyr’s collapse impacted a local Urasoe construction company, Onaka-Gumi Co. Onaka-Gumi, which has been building condominiums, barely escaped bankruptcy after Zephyr defaulted on a ¥950 million payment.

Tourism experts are trying to be cautiously optimistic about 2009, despite the many resort and hotel projects now in hot water. The Sesoko Beach Resort Hotel, a sprawling 360-room hotel on tiny Sesoko Island near Motobu, has seen construction come to a screeching halt because of the collapse of it’s developer. The resort hotel was to open this Spring, but Urban Design System’s collapse appears to have doomed the unfinished hotel. UDS has terminated all 150 employees on the project, and local Nago City and Motobu residents have also lost jobs.

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