Japanese tourism lags

Travelers try to beat the rush at the airport

Jeremy Hobson: Now to the ongoing economic effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We've talked a lot
about how the disaster has affected the automotive and electronics supply chains. But it's also been a drag on the plane-loads of tourists Japan sends to the United States. That'll be noticeable tonight when The Seattle Mariners host the Texas Rangers.

As Ann Dornfeld reports, there will probably be a lot of empty seats.


Ann Dornfeld: On a recent afternoon, Tatsumi Takuo and six other Japanese tourists are getting ready to board a bus for Seattle's Safeco Field. They're eager to see their countryman, Mariners slugger Ichiro Suzuki.

Tatsumi Takuo: The thing I'm looking forward to most is seeing Ichiro. We're going to baseball games all three days we're here.

Trip organizer Makoto Ogasawara says this group is smaller than usual. His company, Azumano International, specializes in tours for Japanese travelers and has been hit with a number of last-minute cancellations since the quake.

Makoto Ogasawara: There may be some impact from the earthquake that may affect the tours. There may be some people in Japan who, because of the earthquake, decide not to travel.

It's bad news for Ogasawara and Seattle's economy as a whole.

Michael Kurtz: Japanese have been our number one tourists for a long time.

Michael Kurtz is director of Tourism for Asia with the Seattle Convention and Visitors' Bureau. He says the city gets about 80,000 Japanese visitors each year. That's a lot of business for Seattle's hotel and service industries.

Kurtz: We've noticed now, as the effects of the quake and the aftermath have taken hold, most Japanese, they're holding back. They're not making trips.

Back in the Mariners tour group, Tatsumi Takuo says it was a tough decision for his wife and him to keep their travel plans after everything that's happened in Japan.

Takuo: We decided to come because it's something that will benefit Japan in the long run, by helping with Japan's economy and the travel business in both countries. And supporting Ichiro is one way of supporting Japan.

Tourism officials are hoping Japanese travel to Seattle picks up by mid-summer --

Announcer: Here's a ball up the middle -- base hit! Ichiro delivers the first run of the home season to a big ovation here at Safeco Field!

In time for the second half of baseball season.

In Seattle, I'm Ann Dornfeld for Marketplace.

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