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Island issue sinks China-Japan tourism

By Xin Dingding and Zhang Yunbi (China Daily)

08:10, January 22, 2013

Chinese tourists rest after shopping in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics shopping district in September 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

As the annual travel peak approaches, Chinese-Japanese tourism remains near rock bottom, and industry insiders say they expect no speedy recovery because of the Diaoyu Islands dispute.

Four months after all tour packages to Japan were withdrawn when tensions rose, Japanese travel packages reappeared on Chinese travel agency websites in December.

But the booking records on some websites show that the Japanese tours, once popular during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, are far from fully booked, a stark contrast with other overseas destinations.

"All travel agencies are testing the waters to see how the market responds to tour packages to Japan, but the results are not good," said Ge Lei, a spokesman for China Youth Travel Service.

At Ctrip, a major online travel agency, almost all tour packages to Japan departing late this month or in February have openings. A spokesman for the company declined to comment due to "the sensitivity of the issue".

The situation is similar at the booking websites of China International Travel Service, another major travel agency. None of the tours to Japan are fully booked.

Ge said the main reason for the lack of interest is that most Chinese people still "have strong feelings" against Japan because of the Diaoyu Islands dispute, and they support boycotting visits to the country.

In an online poll by Japan's Kyodo News Agency on Jan 5, 67 percent of Chinese respondents said they "will not travel to Japan" because of its government's illegal "purchase" of the islands in September.

There has been a sharp drop in Chinese tourists to Japan in the past four months.

The Japan National Tourism Organization said only 52,000 Chinese mainland visitors entered the country in November, a 43.6 percent year-on-year decline, with a sharp decrease in tour groups.

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