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Heavy Toll in Japan

14 March 2011

The death toll in Japan continues to mount as the country reels from the worst earthquake ever recorded in its history. The quake, which measured 8.9 on the Richter scale, and the resultant tsunamis hit the country on Friday, 11 March. Details are still not clear but it has been estimated that over 10 000 people may have been killed. The country is now facing powerful aftershocks, extensive rescue operations and the threat of nuclear meltdown as six nuclear reactors are reported as being in critical mode.

Apart from the devastating human loss, tourism and air travel, like most other industries in the country, have been seriously affected by the earthquake. BBC Travel reports that more than 20,000 passengers have been stranded in Tokyo alone and that it might be days before the backlog is cleared, while eGlobalTravel reports that Tokyo’s international Narita and Haneda airports are closed but were partially open overnight. Flights are expected to be affected well into this week, the site reported.

According to the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Japan Airlines (JAL) was forced to cancel hundreds of flights. The association reported that on March 11th, 12th and 13th, a total of 297 domestic flights were cancelled leaving 48 090 passengers affected while 34 international flights were cancelled leaving 5330 passengers affected. JAL has said that it would waive rebooking fees for people looking to divert their travel plans to dates on or before 10 May 2011.

Meanwhile, passengers with bookings to Japan have scrambled to cancel over the weekend, reports eGlobalTravel. “Airlines have suspended rebooking and cancellation fees – even on non-refundable tickets. Carriers to act on the matter included Qantas, Jetstar, JAL, British Airways, Air Canada, American Airlines, United-Continental, Delta, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Singapore Airlines, Thai, Lufthansa, Emirates and Etihad. Airlines are generally being generous in allowing rebookings, rerouting and refunds without penalty and waiving administrative fees for those changes,” the site reported.

The US State Department has also released a travel warning advising its citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan until April 1.

PATA Interim CEO, Bill Calderwood, issued PATA's condolences and support to members in Japan and across the Pacific. He commented: “Given the magnitude of the quake and tsunami, the impact would have been much worse were it not for Japan’s rigorous building codes and high level of earthquake preparedness. Earthquake and tsunami preparedness is an essential life-saving investment that all potentially affected countries should make.”

Calderwood added: “Our efforts now are to supply accurate status reports from our members in the region in order to give a clear picture of the situation across the Pacific.”

PATA has launched a member feedback and reporting zone on its website, including emergency contact phone numbers, emails, and social media feeds. It has also created an online survey for travel and tourism organizations to report the extent of the impact on ports, airports and beachside hotels and communities.

The Tokyo Conventions & Visitors Bureau meanwhile issued its heartfelt thanks to all the Congress Organizers, Meeting Planners, and friends in the industry from around the world who have sent messages of support. The Bureau commented: “At the current time, there are no reports of Tokyo having suffered any significant damage from the earthquake or from tsunami.” It further advised that information about the impact of the earthquake on MICE events in Tokyo may be found here.

The International Congress and Convention Association's (ICCA) President, Arnaldo Nardone, and CEO, Martin Sirk, also relayed their support to the people of Japan.

“Many ICCA members around the world have been in similar situations, since natural disasters, epidemics and other major crises know no national boundaries, and we are certain that we speak for all of them in sending you this message of support.”

The statement urged people to use ICCA's resources, especially its PR channels, to inform the global meetings industry with factual updates on the situation, and to encourage international meeting planners to continue with their future plans to arrange meetings in Japan.

“This has been done very successfully by Australian members suffering from the recent flooding, the New Zealand members after the earthquake in New Zealand, and we hope this will be helpful to our friends in Japan as well.”

The Japan National Tourism Organization has issued the following notice for overseas visitors traveling Northeastern Japan and the surrounding areas including Tokyo.

- Prava Pillay