Japan Quakes Damage Castle, Unnerve Tourists as Deaths Rise

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Japan Quake Disrupts Tourism Link
  • China's CITS, Korea's Hana cancel tours to quake-hit region
  • Japan has seen tourism rebounding since major 2011 earthquake

Tourist groups from China, South Korea, and Taiwan, the three biggest sources of visitors to Japan, have scrapped trips to the quake-devastated Kyushu region and travel agencies are anticipating further cancellations. 

The blow to tourism coincided with Japan’s peak spring travel season, with carriers including Korea’s Asiana Airlines Inc., Hong Kong Airlines Ltd. and China Airlines Ltd. canceling flights to Kumamoto after the southern prefecture was struck by a series of earthquakes since Thursday. The death toll had risen to 44 with more than a thousand people injured as of Tuesday morning, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Intensity map of Kumamoto earthquake on Saturday April 16, 2016, at 1:25 a.m. JST
Intensity map of Kumamoto earthquake on Saturday April 16, 2016, at 1:25 a.m. JST

Hana Tour Services Inc., South Korea’s largest publicly traded tour agency, has canceled all its Kyushu tours up to April 22, and will waive charges for those who drop out until April 30, according to a spokesman. A branch of Beijing-based China International Travel Service Corp. has aborted Kyushu tours scheduled for April 21 and 29 and will offer refunds to those who cancel.

“Tourism will be hit not just for that area but there will be a spillover effect on the rest of Japan as well,” said Mariana Kou, an analyst at CLSA Ltd. “The average Chinese tourist won’t have a good knowledge of the geography of Japan, they will just feel that they should stay away from Japan for now.”

Travel agency H.I.S. Co., which operates the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Kyushu, rebounded as much as 6.3 percent Tuesday after plunging 12 percent in Tokyo trading a day earlier. Japan travel website Open Door Inc. rose 2.1 percent after closing down 4.8 percent, while China International Travel’s Shanghai-listed shares rose 0.5 percent after falling as much as 1.8 percent Monday.

Japan had seen a rebound in tourism since a bigger earthquake which struck in 2011 and triggered a nuclear disaster. The travel boom has been a bright spot in an economy struggling to sustain growth, as the double-digit surge in visitors annually since 2011 boosted hotels, retailers and sales of everything from tour buses to contraceptives.

China tourists made up the largest group of visitors to Japan, accounting for 5 million of the record 19.7 million who went to the country last year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. South Koreans placed second with 4 million, followed by Taiwan, which sent 3.7 million.

Ctrip.com International Ltd., a Shanghai-based travel services website, and Taiwan’s Life Travel & Tourist Service Co. said in separate statements they are temporarily suspending tours to the Kyushu region. Kumamoto’s airport re-opened Tuesday morning.

At the 400-year-old Kumamoto Castle, ranked by Tripadvisor Inc. as number one on a list of things to do in the prefecture, parts of the surrounding stone walls and ornate tiered-towers have collapsed. Built in 1601 by a feudal warlord, the site is one of the most famous castles in the country, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Standing near the castle on Sunday, Kumamoto resident Mitsuo Furuki mourned the damaged landmark.

“It would take so much time to be rebuilt,” said the 63-year-old. “I came here just a week ago -- what I see now isn’t what I saw then.”

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