In an effort to revitalize tourism, the Japanese government said it will offer 10,000 free holidays to foreigners next year, in the wake of the devastating earthquake-tsunami that hurt the number of visitors from abroad.
Specifically, the Japan Tourism Agency said it will provide free round-trip airfares to 10,000 foreign travelers, who will be asked to submit applications online and explain what parts of the country they would most like to see, stated a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.
After being selected, the winning entrants will receive free passage to Japan and then be asked to write about their adventures (copies of which will eventually be posted online). Japanese officials are clearly hoping that a favorable impression of the country will spur even more (presumably paying) travelers in the near future.
However, the lucky 10,000 twill not have get everything gratis -- once their arrive in Japan, they will be required to cover costs like lodging, food and transport.
The program is expected to commence in April, subject to final government budget approvals. The tourism agency is allocating 1.1 billion yen (about $14 million) for the program.
According to reports, the number of foreign travelers to Japan plunged by more than 50 percent year-over-year during the three months following the March 11 catastrophe. However, by the summer, that drop-off eased somewhat – in June and July, the tourist reduction amounted to 36 percent; by August, levels were down 32 percent.
According to Japan Tourism Marketing Co., year-to-date through August, about 3.94 million foreign visitors arrived in Japan, a 33 percent drop from the prior year. South Korea, Taiwan and China accounted for about 2.42 million of them.
Tokyo officials have assured would-be travelers that the country is safe, excluding the vicinity surrounding the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in the northeastern part of the country.
Almost 16,000 people have been confirmed as dying from the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe.