How the Sendai earthquake and tsunami may effect tourism to the national parks is on the minds of many national park destinations, considering the importance of Japanese travel to U.S. tourism.
As the 4th largest source of foreign tourism to the U.S., Japan sends many travelers to national parks and their destinations. Last year, Hawaii was the single-most popular U.S. destination for Japanese travelers, attracting 1.2 million, followed by California (462,000) and then New York City (220,000), according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures. Many Japanese visitors travel to national parks in each of those states, as well as to units throughout the National Park System.
In 2010, there were positive signs that tourism to the U.S. from Japan was turning around a decade-long downturn. Arrivals grew 16%, according to the U.S. Office of Tourism Industries. Though this year, there were signs that the Japanese economy was depressing overseas travel. Then, with the Sendai earthquake, travel from Japan dropped precipitously. David Uchiyama of the Hawaiian Tourism Authority is reported by MarketWatch to say that, year-to-year, Japanese visitation following the earthquake fell off 17 to 19%.
However, if past disasters are any guide, that decline need not be long-lasting. In the month following the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Hawaii experienced a 12.4% drop in travel from Japan, but by the end of the year, tourism had rebounded, according to the MarketWatch report. In 2003, the SARS scare had a longer-lasting (three months) and more severe (over 36% decline) effect upon Japanese trips to Hawaii, but by year’s end tourism from Japan was down only 9.6%. Therefore, Japanese tourism can be resilient following a major disaster.
There is little doubt that Japanese tourism to national parks will decline profoundly in the near-term, but how long this continues depends on whether additional mishaps occur, how Japan restores normalcy to daily life and how quickly the Japanese economy recovers.
During a crisis, it feels as if the crisis will never end, but even the impact on tourism from major disasters, such as the Sendai earthquake and tsunami, subside over time.