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Business trends

Typhoon Jebi leaves deep dent in Osaka's tourism economy

Sales fell at 80% of retailers and restaurants surveyed days after storm

OSAKA -- The Kuromon market in Osaka usually bustles with tourists grabbing a bite or simply marveling at the array of fish, fruit and other foods on offer. But after Typhoon Jebi knocked out the region's hub airport, Kansai International, earlier this month, merchants were left twisting in the wind.

A visit to the market on Sept. 7, the day before the airport resumed some international flights, provided a glimpse at the economic impact of a powerful storm that also interrupted supply chains.

"We have had absolutely no foreign customers since the typhoon" hit on Sept. 4, said the owner of Daikichi, an udon noodle shop. "They make up 90% of our customers."

Nikkei on Sept. 7 asked 30 Osaka restaurants and retailers that see heavy tourist traffic how the typhoon had affected their sales. Eighty percent reported declines, with 26.7% -- the largest proportion -- saying sales had been cut in half. Only 10%, in total, said their sales had either held steady or increased.

Some shops at Kuromon were among those that reported 50% sales drops. A staff member at a fruit stall said the only option for now would be to rely on Japanese customers.

At Abeno Harukas, the flagship location of Kintetsu Department Store, sales at some shops offering duty-free products fell 10%. An official of Kanmonkai, which runs the Genpin chain of blowfish restaurants, said the company "cannot do anything until Kansai Airport recovers."

The impact on hotels and major tourist attractions is also becoming clearer.

The hotel industry was hit by a wave of cancellations, though some visitors also extended their stays. "Cancellations left 50 empty rooms," said an official at the Hotel New Otani Osaka.

Over at the Imperial Hotel Osaka, the number of stays by foreign tourists between Sept. 4 and Sept. 6 remained at 80% of the pre-typhoon level.

At Osaka Castle Park, the number of tour buses parked on Sept. 6 was down more than 30% at 149, compared with 228 the day before the storm.

Attendance at the castle in July and August was already down 10% on the year, after an earthquake struck the region in June and torrential rains drenched the western part of the country. Michihiro Yoneda, a senior official of the park's management company, said he fears the typhoon's impact "may be bigger than the earthquake and downpour."

Osaka Castle's visitor traffic has been affected by an earthquake, torrential rains and the recent typhoon. (Photo by Nozomu Ogawa)

Although Kansai Airport resumed some international flights on Sept. 8, most are still expected to be canceled for the time being due to flooding and other damage.

Terminal 1, which is assigned to ANA Holdings' All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines and other carriers, remained closed as of Wednesday but was scheduled to reopen on Friday. Flights had partially resumed at the less-affected Terminal 2, used by budget carrier Peach Aviation and China's Spring Airlines, but the departure board still showed numerous cancellations in the morning.

Just getting to the airport is a hassle. A tanker unmoored by the storm smashed into an access bridge for vehicles and trains, displacing the tracks by about 50 cm. Trains are currently running to one stop before the airport's station.

A special shuttle bus service is taking people across the bridge. Two unaffected road lanes are now open, but only to the shuttles and construction vehicles -- not regular traffic.

The express train ride to the airport from the city normally takes about 35 minutes, but the combination of the train and bus takes around an hour. "Only a few airlines have restarted operations," a bus station attendant said. "Most of the bus passengers are airport officials."

An official of Kansai Airports, which operates the hub, said there are plans to temporarily shift some departures and arrivals to Osaka International Airport, also known as Itami Airport, and elsewhere. Yet the number of flights will still be less than usual.

Workers repair Kansai Airport's damaged access bridge on Sept. 12. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

At travel agency JTB, an official said the company is gradually determining alternatives to flights out of Kansai Airport. "The number of inquiries on ways to get to Fukuoka Airport and other airports is rising," the official added.

Hiroaki Tsukada of Mitsubishi UFJ Research & Consulting expects a further drop in tourist spending in the Kansai region, which encompasses Osaka and Kyoto.

"Foreign tourists usually avoid carrying around heavy items during their trip, so they tend to buy most souvenirs at their last travel destination," Tsukada said.

As more tourists fly out from other airports, like Tokyo gateway Narita Airport, he said they are likely to end up spending more outside the region.

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