Japan Bounces Back

Financial Express 30.04.2012
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As a Global Member of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), I had the honor of participating in the organization’s global summit for travel leaders. The global summit was in Sendai, Japan, the region hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami last March. Along with many of the delegates, I was concerned the city would not be prepared to host such an event so soon after the disaster. But I need not have worried: Sendai, the region, and the entire country of Japan, have bounced back in an incredible fashion.

I also expected to find a rather small town. Instead, we were treated to a thriving city. The city was restored quickly after the disasters last year and the people were both pleasant and optimistic. I can understand why: the city is beautiful and is full of greenery, the food is wonderful, and yes, you can even find every luxury brand in Sendai. The region is actively promoting tourism and if you go to Japan you must visit Sendai. If you want a lesson in management and determination, you will find no better role model than this resilient city.

The global summit was a great way to take a step back and think about the big picture. Technological advances are wonderful but videoconferencing cannot change the world the way that travel and personal engagement do. Travel and tourism is the best way to promote peaceful bonds between countries. On a tangentially related note, I was reminded of a fact of which India should be proud: two democratic nations have never started a war with each other.

One of the highlights of my visit to Japan was a specially chartered train journey hosted by Japan Eastern Railways, which took the WTTC members from Sendai to Tokyo. The trip revolutionized my thinking about trains. I love to fly, but it can be a hassle, especially for a short flight. Here’s the problem: the flight itself is fast, but getting from the city centre to the airport can take hours. It’s only getting worse as authorities locate their mega-airports further and further from the CBDs. Fortunately, the Japanese have an elegant solution: Shinkansen.

The trains and, more importantly, the system, network and monitoring are technological marvels. Of course, they are fast. Our train travelled at 300 km per hour. The bullet trains are also fantastically punctual; on average they arrive within just seconds of their scheduled time. More impressively, during the massive earthquake last year, not a single rider was seriously injured. The bullet trains have a network of sensors to detect earthquakes and all of the trains were safely halted while stabilizers kept them level during the tremors. Amazingly, there has never been a fatal accident on the bullet trains due to crashes or derailments. The trains were back in service less than two months after the earthquake last year.

With that piece of mind, I happily boarded my train to Tokyo. The ride was swift and the service outstanding. In fact the large leather seats of the first class section put most airlines’ first class to shame. I enjoyed the Shinkansen so much that I plan to visit Japan again soon and travel more extensively on the network. It was also a time-saver: With the Shinkansen I arrived right in the city and ready for my next meetings. I was already ready to visit some of the world’s finest restaurants, which I look forward to reviewing for you next week.

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