Japan bookings to China still falling amid island row

TOKYO (AFP) - Bookings on Japanese package tours to China for February and March are down around 80 per cent, tourism industry data showed on Monday, as a months-old territorial row dragged on relations.

Tours to China, booked through Japan's seven biggest travel agencies, fell by 80.3 per cent year-on-year for February and by 77.2 per cent for March, the Japan Association of Travel Agents said.

Tokyo and Beijing have been embroiled in a bitter sovereignty dispute over a chain of islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyus in Chinese.

The Japanese nationalisation of some of the islands in September sparked sometimes violent anti-Japan rallies across China.

"Business travel demand is still there but the dispute had a big psychological impact on sightseeing demand," association spokesman Hiroyuki Seishi said.

The drops for February and March show demand for travel to China was not picking up after the drop of 74 per cent in October and declines of nearly 80 per cent in November and December.

Demand has taken a hit from the territorial dispute in past years, Mr Seishi noted.

"The latest flare-up and media reports on the rallies discouraged even more people who do not want to go to unsafe places," he told AFP by telephone.

The heavy air pollution in recent weeks also "worsened the image" of China, he added.

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