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Pan-Arab poll finds a curious fear of natural disasters in Japan

Overturned vehicles sit on the side of a muddy road in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis in Nagano on October 14, 2019. (AFP)
Overturned vehicles sit on the side of a muddy road in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis in Nagano on October 14, 2019. (AFP)
27 Oct 2019 11:10:06 GMT9
27 Oct 2019 11:10:06 GMT9

Caline Malek Dubai

Although many Arabs associate Japan with earthquakes, experts advise that it is not a reason to avoid traveling to the East Asian country.

According to an Arab News-YouGov survey, 43 percent of 3,033 respondents from the GCC, North Africa and the Levant associate Japan with earthquakes.

“While Japan is prone to earthquakes, the majority of these are small tremors and it is definitely not a reason to avoid traveling there,” said Matthew Sliedrecht, director of marketing at Cleartrip in the UAE.

“Japan has developed advanced infrastructure to support tourists in the rare event of a natural disaster.

“While we are surprised at the high percentage of respondents associating Japan with earthquakes, natural disasters are normally heavily covered in the media, so it is likely that this would have had an influence on their perception.”

With Japan hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games, Sliedrecht expects to see a big change in the perception of Japan along with a significant influx of new travelers.

“Since 2017, we have seen traffic increase by over 9 percent year on year,” he told Arab News.

“This has been caused by multiple factors, including a growing number of non-stop flights between the Middle East and Japan, the introduction of larger planes such as the A380, and plans by other carriers to launch non-stop flights.”

Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics in Washington DC, said he is not surprised to see the high number of Arabs associating Japan with natural disasters.

He said the 2012 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, following a catastrophic earthquake, and images of tsunamis in Asian waters have had an enduring effect on perceptions of Japan.

“Nevertheless, there has been sustained growth in recent years in tourism to Japan from the Middle East,” he said, adding “strong connectivity from carriers such as Emirates and Etihad is another positive factor fueling Emirati visitor numbers from 7,106 in 2017 to 7,782 last year.

“Total GCC visitor numbers rose from 20,742 in 2017 to 21,976 in 2018. Those numbers are expected to be much higher this year and into 2020, and this positive development is important for connectivity between the Gulf and Tokyo.”

Earthquakes are considered one of Japan’s natural characteristics. “We have lived with them for a long time,” said a senior Japanese diplomat based in the Gulf who did wish to be identified. “Yes, they have caused huge damage to people from time to time — but not every month, nor every year. We have overcome all those difficulties.”

The diplomat spoke of Japan not only having one of the most advanced earthquake-proof technologies in the world but also upgrading it as much as possible to cope with the challenge.

“There are geological features unique to Japan, which cause earthquakes from time to time,” the diplomat said. “But they are also contributors to a variety of beautiful landscapes and a large number of amazing hot springs all over Japan.

“Seeing is believing, so I urge people to visit Japan, not necessarily big cities, but our local cities, towns and villages, and enjoy exploring.”

Karasik says fear of earthquakes is unlikely to deter Arabs from traveling to Japan because those who are serious about visiting Tokyo or other areas will do so anyway. However, if necessary, potential visitors ought to know that the country keeps itself prepared for earthquakes through civil defense and neighborhood committees.

“The future looks quite bright for Middle Eastern tourism because of higher interconnectivity plus the harmony that Japan brings to a visit,” Karasik said.

“Major events such as the 2020 Olympics serve as a warmup to the 2020 Expo in Dubai.”

Sliedrecht said there is a need to educate the people of the Middle East about the beauty that Japan offers.

“From its rich culture and traditions to its nature and outdoors, it truly is a remarkable place to travel to,” he said.

“We expect to continue to see the growth of the travel corridor between Asia and the Middle East, and especially Japan, as consumers continue to seek new experiences.

“Emirati travelers have a visa waiver registration and most Middle East flag carriers operate direct flights to Tokyo or Osaka.

“So we continue to see a bright future for Japan-bound Middle East tourism.”

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