Tourism Promotion and Disaster: Ethical Issues Faced in Promoting Tohoku Since March 2011

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: 423
Oral Presentation
Daniel MILNE , Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
The series of disasters following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake severely affected Japan’s ability to attract tourists. This has led to a government-directed international tourism campaign of unprecedented scale for Japan. While international tourist numbers quickly rebounded nationally in 2012, those to the disaster-hit areas remain low.

The primary cause of deflated tourist numbers in Tohoku seems to be fear of nuclear radiation. This concern was also central in Tokyo’s recent successful bid for the 2020 Olympics, and is likely to grow as the Olympics approach. Public and private institutions in Japan involved in tourism, along with guidebook publishers and others, face a serious ethical dilemma: How to promote foreign tourism to the disaster-hit areas and support their economic recovery while being open and informative about potential health and safety dangers.

This paper focuses on this ethically-charged dilemma through examining changes in discourses in international tourism promotion amongst these organizations. The appeal to support both Japan’s and the disaster-region’s recovery through tourism activities was central to many of these discourses in 2011 and 2012. This included multiple-entry visas for Chinese tourists on the condition that they visit Tohoku, and JNTO encouraging travel agencies to offer tours for foreign volunteers.  

In 2013, locally-based internet tourism sites and foreign guidebooks still draw on recovery in disaster-hit regions as a central motif in promotional discourses. However, at the national level there seems to be a shift away from focusing on the disaster-hit regions and of promoting international tourists to these areas to help revive these economies. This paper looks into causes of this divergence in discourses. It considers how these organizations and institutions face differently the ethical dilemma of helping those hit by disaster in guiding the practices of international tourists while keeping tourists aware of potential safety dangers.