DEMAND for tour packages from Japan to the World Cup finals in South Africa is far lower than anticipated, with travel agencies blaming high prices, concerns about safety in the host country and tempered expectations about the national team's prospects.
Although the event is less than a month away, unsold packages are abundant.
Among the travel agencies certified by FIFA, the organizing body of the World Cup, JTB Corp., Nippon Travel Agency Co. and Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. had achieved only 50 percent of their sales quotas for tour packages as of Thursday.
Nishitetsu Travel Co. lowered its sales quota from 1,500 for the 2006 World Cup to 600 for this year's event, but still has sold only 70 percent of the latter.
Concern over security in South Africa has been identified as one contributor to the slow sales. According to local police, armed robberies are 28 times more frequent in South Africa than in Japan.
Packages for this year's event are more expensive than similar tours to the 2006 finals in Germany. Some packages for that event were sold for less than 300,000 yen (S$4,410), but the typical price for a South Africa tour is 400,000 yen to 500,000 yen, partly because of the longer and hence more expensive flight.
Poor performances of late by the national team have also dampened interest in the tours. Manager Takeshi Okada has said the team aims to reach the semifinals, but it suffered a disappointing 3-0 loss to Serbia last month.
Travel agencies are hoping sales will get a boost if Japan prevails in its May 24 home match against South Korea, the team's last domestic outing before the World Cup.
"I hope the team will win and make people feel like going to see them play in South Africa," a Kinki Nippon Tourist employee said.
'Most dangerous city in world'
Johannesburg, the primary host city and site of the tournament's final match, has been dubbed the most dangerous city in the world. Public security is also poor in other cities scheduled to host matches.
The Foreign Ministry has warned visitors to Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban during the event to be especially cautious.
According to an official Web site of the South African police, nearly 2.1 million crimes were recorded in the nation in fiscal 2008.
About 30 percent were cases of murder, assault causing injury, or robbery.
There were about 18,000 murders, and about 121,000 armed robberies. Sixty percent of armed robberies occurred on public streets.
Although South Africa's population is one-third of Japan's, it is plagued by 14 times more murders and 28 times more armed robberies.
Many areas are regarded as too dangerous to walk through alone at night.
According to the ministry's Japanese Nationals Overseas Safety Division, many robberies are "smash and grab" attacks, in which thieves approach a stationary car at an intersection, shatter the front passenger window and snatch valuables from inside the vehicle.
Travel agencies have warned customers traveling to South Africa to avoid displaying their wallets when out at night.
"Our customers are not yet sufficiently aware of the security problems [in South Africa]. I'm anxious because not many customers have asked us about the situation," a Nishitetsu Travel Co. employee said.
-The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network