TT-896 (Tourism Edition) -- Tourists and the People of Fukushima Deserve Better

Japan Travel
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
(http://www.terrielloyd.com)

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, May 14, 2017, Issue No. 896

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+++ Tourists and the People of Fukushima Deserve Better

Japan Travel is finally readying its package tours business and I have
been busy contacting major travel agencies around the world to set up
bilateral relationships. You might think that with the likes of
Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and Expedia that the days of real world travel
agencies are numbered. While it is true that the rise of Online Travel
Agencies (OTAs) has killed traditional business targeting couples and
FIT travelers, the market for Group Inclusive Tours (GIT) of 6 or more,
special interest FIT travelers, special needs guests, and luxury
tourists is still very much alive and well. Traditional travel agents
are also learning to go online and pitch themselves as boutiques to
differentiate from the supermarket approach of the big OTAs.

I was introduced to one entity in China and we were discussing the best
places to run adventure tours. Mostly the conversation was about remote
regions that have very few domestic let alone foreign tourists. Places
like Miyazaki (Kyushu), Kochi and Tokushima (Shikoku), and Akita and
Aomori (Honshu). Then I mentioned a really great cycling trip that I did
personally last year, running from Nikko up Route 121 (a delightfully
wooded and not-so-trafficked road) to Inawashiro Lake in Fukushima. At
the mention of the final destination, Fukushima, the gentleman at the
other end simply responded, "Chinese tourists are still very sensitive
to that name." Meaning of course, that they fear radiation contamination
from the Daiichi power plant.

This was a big reminder to me that Fukushima and its nuclear legacy is
still very much on the minds of people around the world even after six
years and billions of dollars of containment and remediation. Most
likely this impression, and avoidance by foreigners of all things
"Fukushiman" will last another generation - certainly well past the
Olympic Games in 2020. It doesn't help that there are numerous fake news
and sensationalist almost-news sites around the world are trading in
Fukushima conspiracy theories. They are prominent in any Google search
and represent the same reputation management challenge that online
slander presents to individuals and companies.

[Continued below...]

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The reality is that while there is indeed an ongoing catastrophe locally
at the Daiichi power plant site, based on independent and trustworthy
sources such as the crowdsourced Safecast.org and the US' Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution, an intelligent person can use critical
thinking to deduce that things are not nearly as bad as they were. In
fact, emissions from the site (versus in the reactor buildings) are the
lowest they've been since 2011. The ice wall is starting to have a
slowing effect on seepage, and decontamination efforts are reducing soil
radiation levels in surrounding areas to what can be considered safe.

Yes, I'll be the first to agree that melted coria in at least two of the
reactors is not a desirable situation and in the end TEPCO may never be
able to extract the molten fuel and instead will be forced to bury the
site - similar to Chernobyl. So let's not ignore the obvious. And
elsewhere in the prefecture there are indeed bands of persistent
environmental contamination, especially in forested gulleys and streams.
But you can be reasonably sure, thanks to Safecast.org data, that as a
visitor to Fukushima you are highly unlikely to come into contact with
any significant radioactivity so long as you stay away from the Daiichi
plant. Which leaves you with a huge swathe of territory across Fukushima
relatively untouched and perfectly safe to visit.

So why aren't tourists visiting the safe parts? Well I mostly blame the
government for not doing more to alter non-Japanese peoples' perception
of Fukushima. The government is all about "hardware" (dirt and concrete)
and forgets that "software" (people's opinions and impressions) also
needs investment. If even in Japan Tokyoites are reluctant to buy
produce from Fukushima, then what chance does the prefecture have with
the rest of the world? So the government's moves to invest about JPY4bn
in promoting produce in Tokyo is a step in the right direction. But it's
too little too late, and in particular does nothing to address foreign
perceptions. Given that the Olympics is just 3 years away, it seems that
the government's strategy is to sweep the Daiichi plant under the rug
and hope that people don't notice. This is why they are not making an
issue of the reactor restarts. However, you can be sure that resumption
of those 48 off-line reactors will be rammed through, right after the
Olympics.

What the government needs to do is three things:
* To co-opt independent but trustworthy public entities to provide
ongoing daily prefecture-wide radiation reports that would be
disseminated online internationally, for the widest reach possible.
These reports should be constant and unbiased, and boring.
* TEPCO should be forced to engage a professional western PR agency, so
that when it gives out its monthly reports and other data, those reports
are fully pre-analyzed and stories developed so that the data is not
misinterpreted and sensationalized.
* Just like individuals/company reputation management, the government
needs to employ an online agency to start putting out accurate web
stories about what is going on at Fukushima and change the perception
that they are covering something up.

Failure to do these three basic PR exercises has meant that Japan and
TEPCO are unable to gain control of the narrative about Fukushima and
thus it continues to scare away tourists who might otherwise discover
what a great location this is.

For example, a recent report from TEPCO about the stable and
much-reduced flow of contamination into the Pacific from ground water
overflow was so dry and bereft of commentary that no journalists picked
it up and you'll barely find it on the web. In contrast, just a month
earlier (start of February) reports popped up all over the world about
the "highest" radiation ever measured in the plant - and how it was bad
enough to kill a human in less than one minute. The fact that the
radiation being measured was high because the newer robots used by TEPCO
could get closer to the melted coria was missed by most international
journalists. Instead, the real message should have been that the
radiation levels were NORMAL - for a measurement being taken inside (or
near to) a reactor fuel source.

Apart from PR, if the government is really serious about rehabilitating
the Fukushima area, it also needs to start allocating more funds to
small business owners rather than dumping money into "Big Concrete".
While some businesses have apparently benefited from recovery funds, I
have had numerous small business owners tell me of their struggle to
survive and having no funds to invest in staff and infrastructure. You
may recall that over the last 3-4 years much of the JPY19trn earmarked
for Fukushima has unfortunately found its way into pet projects outside
the prefecture. For example: whaling expedition financing, prisons in
Saitama and Hokkaido, and new transport aircraft and fighter pilot
training (in the USA) for the Self Defense Force.

Come on Kasumigaseki, METI, and MLIT. You guys can do better than this.

...The information janitors/
-----------------------------------------------------------

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