JAPAN. A -7.7% year-on-year fall in outbound numbers in March – the biggest monthly decline since January 2006 – sealed a soft first quarter for Japanese travel, according to Travel Journal International (TJI) Online*.

First quarter numbers were down by -4.2% compared with the same period in 2007, according to the latest figures released by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

JNTO said China-bound traffic was soft due to publicity over Tibet and issues relating to food safety in China. China, one of the biggest markets for outbound tourism from Japan, showed a -13.8% drop in Japanese visitors in March to 315,000, again the biggest decline since January 2006.

Fuel surcharges linked to the rocketing cost of oil were another factor. Political instability elsewhere had also dampened demand, JNTO said. “Such occurrences, compounded by higher tour prices, offset the appeal of the strong Yen against the US dollar and Korean Won for shopping activities,” noted TJI.

Other major markets such as Taiwan (-11.5 to 106,695), Hawaii (-11.9% to 102,039) and Australia (-15.9% to 50,900) also posted double-digit declines in March.

More positively, inbound travel saw the highest-ever count for the month of March, growing +6.9% year-on-year to 731,900 arrivals. The country’s Visit Japan campaign is paying dividends, TJI said.

Arrivals from China were up +7.8% to 90,900; while big gains were also recorded from Hong Kong (+59.1% to 49,100), Thailand (26,800, +30.5%), Singapore (14,200, +35%), Australia (22,400, +33.1%), the US (82,200, +8.2%), U.K. (22,900, +4.4%) and France (12,300, +6.3%).

But two important travel retail spending nationalities, the Taiwanese and the South Koreans, posted dips of -11.8% (to 96,000) and -0.6% (to 187,500) respectively.

In the first three months of 2008 the number of inbound travellers reached 2,139,850, up +10.7%.

*Editor’s note: For the full report please visit http://tji/tjinet.co.jp. The Moodie Report works closely with TJI Online, the pre-eminent provider of information on the Japanese travel industry. Week in, week out, it provides timely and sharp analysis of the all-important Japanese travel market – international and domestic. It comes with our highest recommendation.

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