NEW YORK – Americans are canceling or postponing upcoming trips to Japan as the country deals with a nuclear power scare and faces months of rebuilding after a deadly earthquake and tsunami.
Both leisure and business travelers are reconsidering their arrangements. The U.S. government has warned travelers against going to Japan.
The Japan National Tourism Organization doesn't yet have any statistics about booking cancelations. But tour operators and travel agents say they're swamped with calls from travelers wondering what to do.
Travel to Japan "is truly in limbo" said Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel in Pennsylvania. The company has canceled an April 19 trip and expects to scrap more tours. The company sends about 500 tourists a year to Japan on 10-day trips starting at $3,200 per person.
"Our suppliers are being very circumspect. Nobody wants to make any sweeping statements about the tourism season," Goldman said. Her best guess is that "trips will resume before the end of May or beginning of June."
Japan saw more than 8.6 visitors last year with 727,000 of them coming from America, according to the tourism organization.
On Sunday, the State Department issued an alert recommending U.S. citizens avoid trips to Japan "at this time." The alert warns about temporary shortages of water and food, power outages and evacuations near nuclear power plants. Trouble cooling some of the country's 10 reactors has led to fears about possible meltdowns and radioactive leaks.
Although the alert expires on April 1, travelers have been cancelling travel plans that fall in the peak tourism season, which starts in April with the blossoming of cherry trees.
"There is no business going on in Japan right now," said Andrea Shpall, a co-owner of Polk Majestic Travel Group in Denver. Some of her clients are getting refunds for their tickets, while others are seeking to exchange them for later travel.
Business travelers are also canceling plans. Ovation Corporate Travel said almost all of its clients scheduled to fly to Japan this week have cancelled or postponed their trips. U.S. airlines count on business travelers to fill lucrative Asian flights. American Airlines just launched new service from New York to Tokyo's Haneda airport and Delta just started service to Haneda from Los Angeles and Detroit.
Both airlines say they've resumed regular flights, though they aren't saying how full the planes are.
Not everybody is canceling. Luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent is still operating its March 31 trip, although it continues to monitor the conditions.
Those who have yet to book vacations are looking elsewhere.
Brenda Jones, a 53-year-old breast cancer survivor from Vincentown, N.J., was planning a fall trip to Japan and Hong Kong. Now, because of the devastation and fears of radiation, she is considering a trip to London and Denmark instead.
"I'm sure a lot of the places I wanted to go to are probably not there anymore," Jones said. "I think we need to give them time to rebuild their lives, even though they are going to be losing a lot of money on tourism."