REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- Seeking to lure tourists to a nation still reeling from the effects of the March earthquake and tsunami, Japan says it will make it easier for foreign travelers to visit: It'll offer free airline tickets.
Officials next year plan to offer 10,000 travelers free airfares to visit the country, which is still coping with the tsunami-triggered nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant several hundred miles north of Tokyo. Government officials say the nation is safe for travel anywhere but the area near the stricken nuclear power plant.
The Japan Tourism Agency announced this week that it plans to ask would-be travelers to submit online applications for the free flights, detailing the region of the country they would like to visit, according to a story in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.
The agency will select winning entrants, who will be required to write a review of their experiences in Japan to be published on the Internet. Travelers are asked to cover their own hotels and meals.
Officials hope that positive reports from tourists will help lure travelers back to Japan, which endured a 50% drop in tourism for the first three months following the March 11 disaster, compared with numbers from the same period in 2010.
The sharp drop eased this summer but numbers had yet to rise to normal rates, officials said.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Credit: Randi Lynn Beach / For the Times