The small world of the Internet is in turmoil since October 10th and the publication of this article in the famous Japanese newspaper 'Yomiuri'. It says that the Japanese government plans to offer foreign bloggers 10,000 airline tickets to Japan. The aim would be to revive tourism in Japan, which has fallen sharply since the earthquake and tsunami. Tourism activity in the country has declined by over 60% the first three months following March 11, despite a discrete stimulus this summer (which I was part of), Japan National Tourism Agency is obviously seeking to revitalize the sector.
Therefore, the Japanese government would be willing to release a budget of 1.1 billion Yens (that's more than 10 million US Dollars) to offer return flights to Japan starting Spring of 2012. Bloggers could register via an Internet form justifying their website, their travel plans and commiting to publish a descriptive report on their blog and social network accounts. The idea is obviously to show that it is still possible to travel in Japan despite fear of radioactive risk shared by many Westerners.
This operation may seem surprising but it is not a first. Since 2009, the japanese organization 'Shikoku Muchujin' invites five bloggers every year to visit Shikoku, to boost tourism on the smallest of the four main islands of Japan. But the approach of the Japanese government, if true, would be of a magnitude never reached to my knowledge. Tourism activity in Japan as a whole could benefit from it, as travelers would have to cover all other expenses : accommodation, transportation such as Japan Rail Pass, tours, ...
This information about the 10,000 free airline tickets to Japan made a big buzz on the net. Japanese tourist offices, embassies and officials have been inundated with questions. A few days after the initial announcement, JNTO clarified the situation.
This is certainly a strong desire from Japan and the Tourist Office, in order to boost travel on its territory from Westerners, but this project is not approved by the Japanese government yet. As long as the Japanese Ministry of Finance has not validated this budget, there will be no free ticket sent to bloggers in the world.
Therefore, as for now there is no official form! If you find any Internet page offering to sign up for this purpose, it is fraud (and it seems there are already a few ones). The official form should be online from March 2012, only on the Internet. It will not follow the 'first come, first served' basis, but motivated applications for each blogger, among which Japan will make a selection. Like a contest, if you want.
Shuichi Kameyama, spokesman for the Japanese Tourist Office, explains that Japan seeks above all 'new ideas' for promoting travel to Japan and the experience. This means your application will have to go beyond a mere 'I want to go to Tokyo Disneyland, visit Kyoto and go shopping.'
Regarding the official planning, remember that the Japanese government's decision won't be made until the end of December 2011, when the Ministry of Finance should go back to the public on this issue. Then we will have to wait until March 2012 for the budget to be also approved by Parliament.
Earlier this week, Japan National Tourist Office Secretary, Hiroshi Mizohata officially confirmed in this press release: ten thousand foreign bloggers will be invited in Japan in 2012. At least, the Japanese government will give them the round-trip ticket from their home country. We also know some more intel such as:
- guest bloggers will be at least from English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish speaking countries
- budget (1.18 billion Yens) is currently being submitted and applications will begin in Summer 2012
- Japan will select influential bloggers first and people who are most followed on social networks
The first offered trips are bound to begin in Summer 2012 at the earliest. What is the exact list of eligible countries? For how long these tickets can they be used? For now, many questions remain unanswered.
In 2010, Japan hosted 8.61 million tourists, which represents an increase of 26.8%. The 2011 figure should be down sharply.
12/26 Update: Japan Flight Give Away Not to Go Ahead
In a press release from this morning, Japan has confirmed the Japanese Government has declined this 'free flight to Japan' budget proposal:
This autumn there were many reports about the Japan Tourism Agency proposing to give away 10,000 free flights to Japan in 2012. After the proposal was reported, people from around the world sent messages to Japan National Tourism Organization saying they would like to participate in the programme to visit Japan and to help revitalize Japan’s tourism industry following the March 2011 earthquake. So it is with regret that the Japanese Government announced the budget for this proposal has been declined, so the flight give away will not be going ahead.
Thanks to the support of the international community, Japan is making vigorous progress towards reconstruction in the earthquake and tsunami affected northeast of Japan, but recovery from the earthquake continues to be a pressing issue.
“We realise that this announcement is going to disappoint thousands of people around the world, but we hope people will understand how insensitive it would appear for the Japanese Government to give people free flights to Japan when the cities, towns and villages devastated by the tsunami are still in desperate need of funding for reconstruction. We also would not want people thinking that the generous donations given from around the world to aide those affected by the disaster was being spent on giving people free flights.
The places most popular with visitors to Japan – Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Osaka, Hiroshima, Sapporo and Okinawa – were outside the earthquake and tsunami affected areas. Please do not let the fact that there will be no free flights put you off visiting Japan. There are lots of great deals available and Japan is ready and waiting to welcome back visitors more warmly than ever before,” said Kylie Clark, Head of PR & Marketing, Japan National Tourism Organization.