Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It has been less than a week since an unholy trifecta of a 9.0 earthquake, a tsunami and radiation leakage has hit Japan, and the fast-moving situation is yet to fully play out. Yet, some trendlines are already clear:

* Airlines are taking strikingly different postures. Japan's major carriers, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, are flying their normal international flight schedules - at least so far - apparently unaffected by the no-fly zone declared by Japanese authorities near damaged nuclear power plants. American Airlines, which just started service from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Tokyo Haneda airport, is maintaining its schedule, as is Delta Air Lines, which flies to Haneda from Los Angeles and Detroit. Unchanged, too, are the schedules of Cathay Pacific Airways and Emirates. However, Taiwan's EVA Airways says it will cancel flights to Tokyo and Sapporo through the end of March. Lufthansa continues to fly to Japan is but diverting flights from Tokyo to Osaka. British Airways is still flying to Tokyo Haneda and Naritia airports but it is offering travelers who planned to fly before April 30 a chance to change travel dates through Sept. 30. The Malaysian Atomic Energy and Licensing Board is scanning flights from Japan for radiation once they arrive in Malaysia, according to a Reuters report posted Mar. 16 at

* Media reports say European multinational corporations are giving employees the option of going home, moving to other Asian countries or staying put in Japan, while bookings on private jets by foreigners seeking to leave Japan are soaring.

* An unspecified number of travelers are cancelling or postponing leisure and business trips to Japan, according to an Associated Press story in the Mar. 14 New York Times ( The Japan National Tourism Organization doesn't yet have hard figures. Nearly 10 percent of the 8.6 milion international travelers who visited Japan in 2010 are from the United States, according to the JNTO. With on-going scary radiation stories and tourism infrastructure that will take months or more to rebuild, it's highly probable that in-bound travel to Japan will slump this year - but also that subsequent campaigns to woo travelers back will result in some substantial deals in travel to Japan by year's end.

* Japan's cherry-blossom season - a prime time to visit, as my wife and I did two years ago on a delightful sakura-gazing trip - begins next month, but foreigners are likely to give it a pass this year. Of course, travel is two-way, and Japanese tourists are less likely to venture outside their country in the short term. This will hurt traditional overseas favorites such as Hawaii, which hosted nearly half of the 2.9 million Japanese who visited the U.S. in 2009. According to MarketWatch, "There have already been reports of significant cancellations, with a Starwood (Hotels and Resorts) spokesman telling Hawaii's KITV on Monday (Mar. 14) that several large tour groups, representing thousands of travelers, had cancelled their plans without booking new dates.'' (

There is no way - and no point - in denying it: This is a terrible situation, with repercussions that go well beyond travel. Even the 24/7 pulse of Tokyo has slowed down, albeit temporarily. "In just four days,'' reports the Washington Post ( "the city's metabolism has dropped, as in hibernation, preparing for the long fight ahead.''

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