It's not a done deal, but next year Japan may give 10,000 foreigners free round-trip plane tickets, to encourage tourism, reports Agence France Presse.
The objective is to have the 10,000 tourists discuss their experiences online, and allow word-of-mouth reports to propagate about safe and hassle-free travel in Japan. Visitors will also fill out a questionnaire about how they feel about visiting Japan after the earthquake and any proposals they might have to renew interest in tourism. The Ministry will request $150 million in funding for this program.
Tourism in July and August this year was down about 30 percent from the same period a year ago. One reason for the drop is that the yen is historically quite strong against the U.S. dollar, making it a somewhat more expensive destination for Americans to visit now than in the past.
The other issue is safety: The government says the mainland is safe except near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where work is still underway toward a full shutdown. Last Friday, the US government downgraded its travel warnings for Japan: Citizens only need to avoid areas within a dozen miles of the plant.
As noted, the free travel program has not been finally approved, so there is no information about it on the Japan National Tourism Agency's English Language website yet. It's expected that visitors to the site may one day soon be able to fill out an entry form for free flights, selecting which parts of the country they would like to see. You can sign up for the agency's free e-mail newsletter to be on the list for more information. And, of course, Budget Travel will keep you posted as news develops.
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