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Travel & Leisure

Japan suffers 58% drop in foreign tourist arrivals on coronavirus

Decline in February is nearly as bad as after 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster

People walk through the Narita Airport with masks following an outbreak of the new coronavirus in Japan, March 9.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- A total of 1.08 million visitors from overseas arrived in Japan in February, plunging nearly 60% from the same month last year as arrivals from China dropped almost 90% amid the coronavirus outbreak, figures released by the Japan National Tourism Organization showed Thursday.

The 58.3% decline is similar to that recorded in April 2011, a 62.5% fall, soon after the deadly 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. The coronavirus outbreak, which the World Health Organization has designated a global pandemic, is also expected to have negatively affected the number of foreign arrivals for March.

From China, Japan's second biggest source of visitors after South Korea, 87,200 people arrived in February, down 87.9% from the same month last year and marking a nearly six year-low since December 2013. The decline came after China banned overseas group tours at the end of January.

Meanwhile, a total of 143,900 South Koreans arrived, marking a 79.9% fall. That figure had already been dropping since the second half of last year amid a diplomatic feud between Seoul and Tokyo, but the pace of decline increased with the emergence of the coronavirus.

China and South Korea make up for half of foreign visitors to Japan but reductions in flights and the imposition of quarantine restrictions on arrivals from those countries are likely to trigger further drops.

Other countries and regions are also sending decreasing numbers of visitors to Japan. From Taiwan, 220,400 people arrived, a 44.9% fall, and from Hong Kong there were 115,600 arrivals, down 35.5%.

The impact is also showing up in visitor numbers from other countries. A total of 73,400 people from the U.S. visited Japan in February, a decline of 20.8%, while arrivals from the U.K., Germany and Italy each recorded drops of around 20%.

"The drop for February was bigger than expected," said Hideo Shioya, director of the Japan Travel Bureau Foundation, a Tokyo-based research institute that specializes in tourism. "March may mark a fall of little less than 70%, as countries other than China and South Korea will be impacted even more," he added.

The Japanese government on Wednesday said arrivals from certain parts of Italy, Spain, Switzerland and all of Iceland will be denied entry into the country, extending a ban on arrivals from parts of China, South Korea and Iran. Visitors from countries in the European Union and other areas are subject to quarantine.

The Japanese government has pinned high hopes on foreign tourists and is targeting a total of 40 million for this year, but the goal will be challenging to meet. Japan is considering several measures to bolster the travel industry.

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