Toyako G8 tourist boom goes bust

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Toyako, the host city for the Group of Eight summit last July, saw a 10 percent drop in tourists in fiscal 2008, it was learned Sunday.

Officials in the southern Hokkaido city had been counting on a huge increase, since Toyako is now better known than ever both at home and abroad thanks to the media coverage of the gathering of the world’s leaders.

“We didn’t expect at all (that the figures) would drop below the level of the previous year,” one Toyako official said. “It’s beyond our imagination.”

The city drew 685,000 tourists in the fiscal year that ended in March.

According to the municipal government, the number of tourists was on the increase until July, but numbers started to fall after August as rising gasoline prices took the wind out of the domestic tourism market.

The global financial crisis in the fall cut into foreign tourists. The number of non-Japanese visitors in February was only 40 percent of the number a year earlier, the municipal government said.

Numbers are also down for this fiscal year. A number of schools in the Kansai region canceled excursions due to the swine flu outbreak, Toyako officials said.

The city had hoped the G8 summit would boost tourism to Lake Toya and the surrounding area known for its natural scenery and the luxury resort hotel that served as the summit venue.