Sonsoji Tower, Tokyo (Rosino)

Fancy a free flight?

15th October 2011

Up to 10,000 travellers could receive free flights to Japan in an effort to revive the country's suffering tourism industry following this year's crises

The initiative is currently subject to government budget approval but if given the go-ahead the program could launch as soon as April 2012. The Japanese Tourism Agency is predicted to spend about 10% of its 2012 budget on the round-trip flights, amounting to approximately $14.3 million. Participants will be obliged to pay for their own accommodation and expenses.

Applicants will be required to fill out an online questionnaire specifying which areas of the country they would be particularly interested in visiting. The Tourism Agency will then select 10,000 winners who will be required to tweet, blog and write about their trip in a worldwide attempt to promote Japan as a safe and unique holiday destination. However, Japanese sceptics have disputed that the money could be more usefully channelled to aid the victims of the 11 March disaster.

Visitor numbers to the country, between March and June, plummeted to around 320,000 (half the usual figure) in the aftermath of the 11 March disasters and the following nuclear crisis.

The government has insisted Japan is safe, except for the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima power plant. However, yesterday officials in Yokohama city raised concern, claiming they had detected radioactive strontium-90 six-times normal levels on rooftop buildings, 250km from the plant.

"Until the fears of radiation are gone, which looks like it will take a few years, it is difficult to see full recovery in the industry," said Masaki Sakamoto, a tourism analyst and director of Hawaii Tourism Asia.

Last week, Japan was voted favourite long-haul country in The Guardian & Observer Travel Readers Awards 2011, with Japan awarded an outstanding 98.9% satisfaction score by readers. Tokyo was also elected favourite overseas city, for the second year running, demonstrating Japan’s great potential as a tourist destination.

Japan was hit by natural disaster earlier this year. This country was struck by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, which left 23,000 dead or missing, and triggered the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Japan has since been stigmatised as travellers remain unsure about the safety of the country. Recent studies reflected this revealing the number of visitors are still down by roughly a third from a year ago.

Japan was voted fifth in the Top Country category in last year's Wanderlust Travel Awards. Help them get higher, by voting in this year's awards now.

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