Overnight visitors to Fukushima from H.K. swell 2.5 times to 2,670 in Jan.-Oct.

29 January 2019

Overnight visitors from Hong Kong to Fukushima Prefecture reached 2,670 in the January-October period of 2018, about 2.5 times more than the previous year’s same period, Fukushima Gov. Masao Ushibori reported at a regular press conference. The total, including tourists, exceeded for the first time the level before the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

Viewing the recovering travel demand as a toehold to dispel the bad reputation stemming from the nuclear disaster, the prefectural government is set to step up efforts to attract more visitors from fiscal 2019 beginning next April, including the transmission of tourism information in traditional Chinese widely used in Hong Kong and calls for airlines and travel agents to operate charter flights to Fukushima.

Prefectural officials attributed the growing number of overnight visitors from Hong Kong to promotional campaigns undertaken in July 2017 by the governors of Fukushima and five other prefectures in the Tohoku region and Niigata Prefecture as well as local tours by influencers invited from Hong Kong such as media representatives and bloggers. The Aizu western inland region, known for its nature and landscapes, is particularly popular.

The Fukushima government intends to closely examine information acquired from Uchibori's visit to Hong Kong and successful publicity programs carried out for Taiwan, the same traditional Chinese language-speaking bloc. Factors to be tracked down include ways of sending out information in a manner appealing to Hong Kong residents and tour plans matching their tastes.

Details are yet to be worked out but they will focus on Fukushima's ongoing initiatives designed to ensure product quality, safety and peace of mind regarding agricultural produce, forestry products and seafood produced in the prefecture. Fukushima will also publicize in an easy-to-understand manner its tourism resources such as autumn foliage, snow landscapes and hot springs. Moreover, it will consider taking such measures as another promotional visit to Hong Kong by the governor to help resume Fukushima-Hong Kong charter flights, suspended since the quake and nuclear accident. In 2007, 115 such charter flights were operated.

Hong Kong’s population is about 7.4 million and its nominal per capita gross domestic product is some US$46,000, more than Japan’s. Consumption power of Hong Kong travelers is high, particularly among wealthy people. Japan Tourism Agency statistics show overnight visitors from Hong Kong to Japan totaled 6.25 million in 2017. But Fukushima is hovering low in the rankings of their prefectural destinations, suggesting lingering adverse effects of the disaster.

Citing that dissipation of anxiety and qualms harbored by general Hong Kong citizens toward Fukushima will also lead to the eventual removal of import restrictions on prefectural farm, forestry and fishery products in the future, the prefecture has judged it necessary to take more aggressive initiatives to draw visitors from there.

Referring to Hong Kong’s recognition of Fukushima's present status, Uchibori told the press conference that "the image of the quake and nuclear mishap remains strong there." Against this backdrop, he underlined his willingness to take actions. "What is most effective to dispel bad rumors is to have people visit Fukushima. We will send out information broadly on the allures of our food and tourism, thus paving the way for the expansion of tourists."

(Translated by Kyodo News)