Friday, March 25, 2011

Japan Disaster Affecting Tourism to U.S.

Los Angeles Times: As Japan struggles to rebuild from the devastating earthquake and tsunami, the U.S. travel industry is bracing for a drop in high-spending tourists from that country.

Dozens of tour groups from Japan have already canceled reservations for hotels and sightseeing trips in Southern California. Local travel agents are coping with airline cancellations. And with the disaster's aftereffects still uncertain, merchants are anxious.

"The impact from the international-business-travel side could be significant," said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau. "They stay a long time and spend a lot, and that's why everyone loves the Japanese market."

Up to 40% of tours for Japanese visitors have been canceled at Nada Bus Inc. in the City of Commerce, operations manager Kats Saito said. "I suspect it's going to get even worse later on."

In Los Angeles, Japanese tourists represent the third-largest source of overseas visitors, behind Australia and Britain. In San Diego and Orange counties, Japanese are second only to the British as the top overseas visitors. Last year 305,000 Japanese visitors traveled to Los Angeles, spending $279 million, according to L.A. Inc., also known as the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Although companies that specialize in tours for Japanese visitors have reported dozens of cancellations for the next month or so, Southern California theme parks and restaurants often favored by Japanese tourists say they have yet to see a drop in business.

At the offices of Top Tour America in Torrance, President Mike Miura said about half of his tours for March and April had been canceled. But Miura hopes business will bounce back in a few months, just as it did after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "After a few months, I expect it will come back to normal," he said.

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