BEIJING - Japan will shorten its group visa approval process for Chinese travelers effective from July 1 in order to stimulate slumping tourism in the wake of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis that hit the country in March this year.
Also from July 1, Chinese tourists will be able to visit Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa on multiple-entry visas.
Uichiro Niwa, the Japanese Ambassador to China, said that it is quite safe for Chinese tourists to travel in Japan. He made the comment while attending a promotional activity for Japanese tourism held in Beijing in mid-June.
According to the Japan Tourism Agency, the number of foreign visitors to Japan plunged during the month of May, falling to 358,000, or roughly half the number of tourists that the country received during the same period last year.
Authorities make efforts to boost tourism
China's National Tourism Administration (NTA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a notice on April 29 in which they lifted their Japan travel alert.
The notice said that public order and safety had been restored in all areas in Japan other than the hard-hit prefecture of Fukushima. The notice also said that travellers should make sure to take heed of alerts and statements issued by Japan's travel authorities.
A traveller surnamed Chen said that she will not choose to travel to Japan, since the pollution from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant will probably not be cleaned up quickly, according to an article published in the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper.
Fortunately, Japanese post-quake tourism recovery has been getting support from Chinese government departments, tourism authorities, travel agencies and airline companies.
Shao Qiwei, chief of China's National Tourism Administration, said at a Sino-Japan tourism seminar held in Japan in early June that China would implement five specific measures to help prop up Japan's struggling tourism industry.
The measures include restarting group tours to Japan, opening Shanghai-Kagawa charter flights and restarting Shanghai-Ibaraki charter flights, establishing a Sino-Japanese joint venture travel agency in China, inviting 100 children from Japan's quake zone to South China's Hainan province for a short vacation and welcoming Japanese delegations to promote their tour routes and products.
Shao also asked Japan to ensure that the information it releases regarding safety and security in post-quake Japan is "timely and real" in order to inspire the confidence of Chinese travellers.
Ohata Akihiro, an official from Japan's ministry of land, infrastructure and transport, said the Japanese government has been strictly inspecting its food ever since the Fukushima nuclear leak occurred.
Rebuilding Japanese tourism
Dozens of Japanese delegations have visited Chinese cities recently to tap new markets and promote tourism-related products. At the same time, Chinese travel agencies in several of the country's provinces have been sending increasing numbers of tourists to the country.
Tour groups from Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province and Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, left for Japan on April 29 and 30, almost immediately after Chinese authorities lifted their Japan travel alert.
The cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian, Ningbo, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhongshan and Nanning have also resumed travel services to Japan.
More than 150 travel groups are scheduled to leave Shanghai for Japan between late June and mid-July, according to China Eastern Airlines. This number is equal to 60 percent of the number of travelers who made the trip during the same period last year, the airline said.
Shi Jianying, the chief of China Eastern Airlines' routes to Japan and the Republic of Korea, said the revival has been "beyond expectations" in comparison to the complete absence of travelers in April.
"The rebound can be partially attributed to travel agencies offering extremely large discounts. Some of them are offering 50-percent discounts," Shi said.
Guo Xiaoquan, a manager with the China Travel Service, said the lowest quoted price for a six-day trip to Japan from the ciy of Hangzhou is less than 3,000 yuan (about $463), or barely the price for flight tickets before the quake.
To reinvigorate the market, travel agencies are trimming their profit margins and finding new ways to offer the same services that were available before the quake.
Hu Zhihui, marketing director of the hotel business department of Shanghai-based ctrip.com, China's leading travel service company, said that hotel prices in Japan have decreased by 45 percent.
"More than 40 hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka are offering significant discounts," Hu said.
Cruises are becoming a new growth factor for Japanese tourism, particularly in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.
The cruise ship "Legend of the Seas", operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise, Ltd, the world's second-largest cruise operator, will make four trips to Japan in August. The ship will leave Tianjin for the cities of Fukuoka, Beppu, Kagoshima and Busan.