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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Golden Week travel on rebound as fuel fees fall

Travel agencies report increased demand for overseas trips this year


Staff writer

Overseas travel during Golden Week is expected to increase as low fuel surcharges attract consumers even amid the recession.

News photo
Golden Week globe trotter?: A man reads an overseas travel pamphlet outside travel agency JTB Corp.'s Mita outlet in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Friday. MINORU MATSUTANI PHOTO

JTB Corp., the country's largest travel agency, said Friday the number of people planning to leave Japan between April 25 and May 5 rose 10.1 percent to 500,000, up from 454,000 last year.

H.I.S. Co., which owns No. 1 Travel, announced Thursday the number of people who booked Golden Week overseas air tickets via the H.I.S. group jumped 26 percent compared with last year, without providing the exact figures.

"The drop in fuel surcharges is good motivation for people who held back from traveling abroad over the Christmas break," said Tatsuo Mori, spokesman for the Japan Association of Travel Agents. The surcharge was still high when the economy began to contract last year.

"This means that recession or no recession, people want to go abroad," he said.

The strength of the yen against certain currencies is also contributing to the boost in overseas flights, especially to South Korea, according to Mori, JTB and H.I.S.

As April 29 and May 3-5 are national holidays, people tend to take a few more days off around these dates to have a long vacation. This year, May 6 will be a holiday because May 3 falls on a Sunday.

The average Golden Week travel costs per person dropped 14.9 percent from last year to ¥216,800, largely due to a plunge in fuel surcharges.

The number of people planning to take domestic trips during Golden Week rose 2.9 percent to 21.4 million, up from 20.8 million a year ago, because of lower expressway tolls and the falling price of gasoline, JTB said. The agency came up with the estimate by surveying 1,200 people, as well as taking its sales data, flight booking data from carriers and other information from the travel industry.

Among foreign destinations, the U.S. is the most popular, with 99,000 people planning to visit, unchanged from a year ago. Hawaii, Guam and Saipan account for two-thirds of travelers.

The number of people planning to go to South Korea surged 32.4 percent to 98,000 from a year ago, making the country the second-most popular destination, JTB said. China ranks third with 85,000 planning to visit the country, up 13.3 percent from last year.

H.I.S., whose No. 1 Travel has a higher percentage of non-Japanese clients than JTB, said reservations of Golden Week trips to Europe, the Americas and Oceania rose 32 percent, a bigger increase than those to Asia, because going to far-off destinations results in bigger gains from the cheap fuel surcharge.

Unlike JTB, whose estimate reflects industrywide figures, H.I.S. announced only its own booking information.

The fuel surcharge, which airlines, including Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, pass on to passengers, plunged by about 90 percent on April 1. The new prices apply to tickets issued by carriers from that day to June 30.

For example, there is now a ¥3,500 surcharge on a one-way trip from Japan to North America except for Hawaii, down from the ¥22,000 surcharge levied between Jan. 1 and March 31. The same ¥3,500 surcharge applies to Europe, the Middle East or Oceania. JAL and ANA apply the same surcharges.

Airlines operating from Japan set fuel surcharges in three-month quarters that must be approved by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. Carriers referred to the average Singapore kerosene price from November 2008 to January this year for the current surcharges.

The average price of Singapore kerosene, which JAL and ANA use for fuel, between last November and this January fell to $64.22 per barrel, the lowest in the past four years and down from $115.92 in the previous three months, a JAL spokesman said.



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