Tohoku’s tourism development strategy following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami

The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan had a profound impact on tourism in Tohoku prefecture, affecting both domestic and international travelers. Though the number of customers at accommodation facilities in Tohoku were gradually increasing, many of them were related to recovery initiatives and were not tourists. Foreign travelers decreased by 50–70 per cent immediately after the disaster, leaving hotels and inns bankrupt in the affected area.

Within three weeks of the disaster, local divisions of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and local public and private stakeholders had established a working group to share information and discuss recovery strategies for the tourism industry. Initiatives include branding Tohoku as a resilient community (their logo is 'Together, let's try hard, Tohoku!' which has become the symbol of Tohoku's recovery and attracted further support) and national and international advertising campaigns using traditional symbols of Tohoku's tourism (such as female owners of inns known as 'Okami-san') as well as efforts to highlighting the safety of the destination.

These local efforts converged at the 'Destination TOHOKU Campaign', actively supported by central government. The main goal was to create a strengthened tourism industry around a new model of interactive tourism where tourists can communicate more with local people and feel the daily lives of the region – as opposed to the distant, model where tourists go from one touristic spot to the next- thus preserving the local culture and maximizing the benefits for the local community. In the first seven months since the start of the Destination TOHOKU Campaign, the number of travelers into the Tohoku region reached about 31 million, 27 million of which stayed at accommodation facilities. With the strong focus on revitalizing local communities, the Campaign benefitted a wide range of local MSMEs, from traditional inns and hotels, retail shops, restaurants, transportation companies and other relevant businesses. In 2021, the campaign continues to mark 10 years of recovery since the 2011 disaster.