“Yamete!”: Japan Reneges on Offer of 10,000 Free Flights to Foreign Visitors

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Last October, in an effort to bolster the country’s reputation following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the Japan Tourism Agency announced that it would give away 10,000 free flights to Japan in 2012. However, the day after Christmas, officials announced that the flight giveaway will be a no go.

After initially reporting the story about the campaign, interest in the story shot through the roof. People from all around the globe wanted to dig deeper for details. Where can I find the application form? How does the application process work? When can I apply? These were just a few of the many questions we were bombarded with as readers sought more information on how to score a free ticket to Japan.

Instead of receiving additional information on the campaign’s details, those who had been waiting patiently received word of the Japanese Government’s announcement that it had declined the budget for this proposal.

Kylie Clark, head of PR and marketing for the Japan National Tourism Organization, had this to say:

We realize that this announcement is going to disappoint thousands of people around the world, but we hope people will understand how insensitive it would appear for the Japanese Government to give people free flights to Japan when the cities, towns and villages devastated by the tsunami are still in desperate need of funding for reconstruction. We also would not want people thinking that the generous donations given from around the world to aid those affected by the disaster was being spent on giving people free flights.

The places most popular with visitors to Japan – Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Osaka, Hiroshima, Sapporo and Okinawa – were outside the earthquake and tsunami affected areas. Please do not let the fact that there will be no free flights put you off visiting Japan. There are lots of great deals available and Japan is ready and waiting to welcome back visitors more warmly than ever before.

Essentially, Japan launched a campaign that was so seemingly generous and covered by news outlets around the globe only to back out less than three months later. As a country that is still struggling to recover from a devastating natural disaster and its aftermath, does Japan deserve a pass on this blunder?

IMAGE: B.Mayer

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13 Responses to ““Yamete!”: Japan Reneges on Offer of 10,000 Free Flights to Foreign Visitors”

  1. Nancy D. Brown January 4, 2012 12:47 am
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    Kylie Clark and the Japan National Tourism Organization need some public relations assistance and fast. Perhaps they should consider a series of travel blogger press trips so that travel media members will write about the places most popular with visitors, as well as the places that need a spotlight shone on them to aid in tourism recovery?

    This type of campaign has been successful for the gulf areas negatively affected by the BP oil spill. Coincidentally, BP is footing the bill for these press trips.

    By the way, Yamete , loosely translated, “Stop It!”

  2. Steve the QiRanger January 4, 2012 1:44 am
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    Being so close to Japan, I was instantly interested in seeing how I could partake in this endeavor. However, there was never anything presented. It doesn’t surprise me that they pulled the plug. They never really had the mechanism in place to really pull it off. Do they deserve a pass? No. This is a huge blunder and while it won’t hurt their tourism business, because it’s severely lacking, it will not bolster it wither. Nancy hit the nail on the head. They need to get some positive press soon – and the best way to do that is to identify key markets and fly out travel writers and bloggers to help sell a trip.

  3. Jane January 4, 2012 4:00 am
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    What I don’t understand is why they made an annoucement first before waiting on clearance from the Japanese government? I agree that funds should be spent on reconstruction rather than on offering free flights, but they shouldn’t have announced anything to the public without confirmation of government funding first. The responsibility lies on the Japanese tourism board who have made what is quite a school boy error.

  4. Bret @ Green Global Travel January 4, 2012 4:52 am
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    “Does Japan deserve a pass on this blunder?”

    NO, they absolutely do not! Especially not when the Japanese government has reportedly allocated $30 million from tsunami recovery funds to fund their whaling fleet, which annually hunts thousands of whales in direct violation of international laws (under the auspices of “scientific research”).

    What that tells me, as both a traveler and an environmental activist, is that Japan as a nation is more interested in defeating the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society than they are in attracting tourism dollars. This debacle is only going to make things worse… and you know what they say about karma.

  5. Ant Stone January 4, 2012 8:34 am
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    Do they deserve a pass? Yes. Should they have offered such a large shiny carrot? Probably not.

    In my opinion, if these bloggers and PRs were so eager to get over to Japan, they could have done so off their own back — and still can.

    The Japan National Tourism Organisation is guilty of nothing more than fast-thinking, to pipe in some positive thinking at a time that was so devastating for its people.

    So what if some people are not getting a free flight ticket to Japan? Perhaps that says more about them, than it does about the JNTO.

  6. Andy Jarosz January 4, 2012 11:12 am
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    I agree with Jane here – the big error was the premature announcement of something that was only a proposal. Anyone in any tourist board could make the same claim “Hey, we’re thinking of giving away 1 million free flights to Moldova along with accommodation and unlimited Moldovan food!” but it was naive in the extreme not to expect the press to run with the story and the public to believe it as a done deal.

    In fairness to the folks at JNTO in London I got the impression they learned about the story pretty much at the same time as the rest of us and they have been dealing with the consequences since. Behind the ‘party line’ statement above I can only guess their frustration at this PR gaff from their Japanese HQ.

  7. Laurence January 4, 2012 11:17 am
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    I have to agree with Ant. They deserve a pass. Offering up a too good to be true opportunity to get press coverage was, a cynic might suggest, just that, a press ploy with no actual backing. But I’m not sure diverting funds from actual disaster relief fund to 10,000 free flights (10,000!) is a tremendous bit of great PR either. If there’s something about whaling going on, well, that’s another story, but I’d need to see some evidence of that rather than hearsay before making a decision.

  8. Rich Whitaker January 4, 2012 11:47 am
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    interesting…

  9. Durant Imboden January 5, 2012 10:48 pm
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    The original TELEGRAPH story (which was based on a Japanese newspaper story) said the offer was “subject to government budgetary approval.” That fact may have been ignored in the subsequent rush of blog coverage and social-networking chatter, but it isn’t the Japanese tourist office’s fault that the government said “no” or that bloggers weren’t listening.

  10. Liz Cleere January 6, 2012 6:13 am
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    Of course give ’em a pass.

    So some people thought they were in for a freebie and didn’t get it, big deal.

    Whoever dreamt up the idea deserves a marketing award. Japan’s been well and truly on the tourist/traveller/blogger map since they ‘announced’ this initiative. Oooh, don’t we all know lots more now about all the lovely places in Japan now?

  11. Rich Whitaker January 6, 2012 3:26 pm
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    Perhaps, but if I went out to the press with an initiative involving approximately 10 million dollars worth of free tickets I’d be damn sure it was confirmed. That story was picked up by most network, cable and local news outlets here in the States. I saw it covered on the Today Show, Fox News and my local CBS affiliate’s morning news.

    To me, the fact that they released the bad news on December 26 while many people were on vacation and away from their normal routine for the entire week speaks volumes.

  12. Durant Imboden January 6, 2012 6:00 pm
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    Rich, I think the real problem was the failure of third- and fourth-hand reporters to read the original story carefully. For example, Travelllll.com’s third-hand story said:

    “According to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun (and via the Telegraph), the Japan Tourist Agency will be asking wannabe visitors to apply online for free tickets to the area of the country they’d most like to visit.”

    The Travelllll.com story failed to mention a key point: namely, that the proposal was subject to government budgetary approval (a fact that was clearly stated in the Telegraph story).

    I can’t help being reminded of the game called “Gossip” or “Telephone,” where a statement gets mangled as it gets passed from person to person.

  13. John January 15, 2012 6:28 pm
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    When I checked the details, it was clear that the offer was subject to budgetary approval. However, anyone with an interest in visiting Japan missed an opportunity to go there at rock bottom prices soon after the tragic events. As they point out in their statement most of the areas popular with visitors were unaffected. I know of one blogger who took advantage of the cheap prices last year and visited. His blog posts show how it is not an expensive country to visit if you do your research. He has a comment on this post.