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Japan`s outbound travel increases

Japan`s largest travel agency group, JTB (previously Japan Travel Bureau), believes that outbound travel by Japanese citizens will…

Japan `s largest travel agency group, JTB  (previously Japan Travel Bureau), believes that outbound travel by Japanese citizens will  start to increase again this spring. This looks very unlikely. In the months after 11 September, outbound travel from Japan fell 21 per cent in September, 40 per cent in October, 42 per cent in November, and probably 30 per cent in December. These declines may even be greater than declines in outbound travel from the USA – where initial falls of around 30 per cent quite quickly eased to the 20s.

One segment of the Japan outbound market has been particularly badly hit. Post 11 September declines in tour operator sales in Japan have been as high as 50 per cent – even for some of the country`s biggest operators. According to Travel Journal International, revenue from outbound travel for the top 50 outbound agencies fell 26 per cent in September, 46 per cent in October, 52 per cent in November, and 40 per cent in December, and 11 per cent for the whole year.

JTB believes the recovery in outbound travel from Japan will be led by independent travellers (FITs) and that business travel will still be in decline in the first half of this year. (According to the official breakdown of tourist statistics, over 80 per cent of outbound travel is leisure, but the FIT share is not known. However, depending on how it is measured, it is probably around 20 per cent.)

JTB forecasts a 3 per cent increase in outbound travel this year to 16.6 million – which would be just above the 16.4 million achieved in 1999. The peak was 17.8 million in 2000, with a decline in 2001, probably to 16.2 million. Although total spend figures have generally increased over recent years, spending per person in yen has remained unchanged, or declined. Five years ago in 1997, for instance, it was US$2,980 (using a standard exchange rate over the years of ¥124 to US$1). JTB estimates it actually increased in 2001 (to US$2,711, but these are still estimates), and will fall only slightly this year to US$2,646.

As the yen is falling in value – from around ¥100 to US$1 in late 2000, to over ¥130 now. This in itself could increase overseas spending – because it means a hamburger overseas costs ¥130 this year instead of ¥100 in 2001. But some observers believe that the outbound market from Japan will be under threat from other non-travel negatives as well. These include an economy in recession, with an unemployment rate that at 5.5 per cent is the same level as that in the USA – often considered the most obdurate economy when it comes to hiring and firing. Japan`s GDP has been in decline for most quarters since the start of 1998. Even when there was growth it was not above 1.5 per cent.

Although one month after 11 September JTB said that it did not expect a recovery in outbound travel before summer 2002, it is usually optimistic. But this time its restated recovery forecast seems well off the mark.

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Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.

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