Photo/IllutrationA lobby is fairly empty at New Chitose Airport near Sapporo, Hokkaido, on Sept. 13. (Kazuyoshi Sako)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

SAPPORO--The earthquake in Hokkaido has already caused an estimated 10 billion yen (about $90 million) in damage from canceled reservations mainly by foreign tourists and schools, and tourism officials fear the losses will only grow.

The Hokkaido branch of the Japan Ryokan & Hotel Association said Sept. 13 that about 500,000 people have scrapped plans to stay on the northern island since the magnitude-6.7 earthquake rocked the southwestern part of Hokkaido early on Sept. 6.

The quake killed dozens of people, triggered landslides and caused soil liquefaction. The government is still trying to fully recover from a quake-induced power outage that affected the entire island, and is continuing to ask businesses and residents to conserve energy.

The quake struck at a time when visitor numbers generally peak in Hokkaido. Nearly 40 percent of all tourists to Hokkaido visit from July to September.

About 10 percent of foreign tourists to Japan visit Hokkaido.

Officials fear their numbers will plummet because of the earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Hokkaido.

The Sapporo Autumn Fest, a food event that has attracted about 2 million people every year, was initially scheduled for Sept. 7 to 30.

However, the period was shortened by eight days, with the opening day pushed back to Sept. 15.

Tourism, along with agriculture, are key pillars in Hokkaido’s economy.

According to the Hokkaido government, 56.1 million tourists, including 2.79 million foreigners, took day trips or stayed overnight in Hokkaido in fiscal 2017, which ended in March. Both figures were record highs.

But now, tourist sites and accommodation facilities have been inundated with cancellation requests.

In the “onsen” hot spring resort around Lake Akanko in Kushiro, eastern Hokkaido, seven major “ryokan” inns have accepted cancellations of reservations from about 8,000 people for September and 2,000 people for October, according to a local ryokan association.

“We are receiving a number of cancellations not seen in conventional years, although there are no problems at all with the buildings and hot springs,” said Takanori Matsuoka, secretary-general of the association.

Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa in central Hokkaido resumed operations on Sept. 7, a day after the earthquake struck.

However, the number of daily visitors has declined to only about 2,000. In September 2017, about 140,000 people, or 4,467 a day on average, visited the zoo.

About 13,000 people canceled their reservations for September at the Sapporo Beer Garden in Sapporo, which provides tours of the beer-brewing process.

At the Noboribetsu onsen resort in Noboribetsu, southwestern Hokkaido, about 12,000 people canceled reservations from Sept. 6 to 9.

Hokkaido had been enjoying a steady rise in visits from overseas travelers.

The number of foreign tourists to Hokkaido increased 5.3 times over the past five years, reaching 2.79 million in fiscal 2017, according to the Hokkaido government.

Visitors from Asian countries and regions, including China, South Korea and Taiwan, accounted for 90 percent of the foreign tourists.