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“Eclipse, couldn’t see!” Demand for payback for package tour on internet

8, 03. 2009

   The Akuishi Island in Kagoshima Prefecture was in the center of the public attention because the full solar eclipse was to be observed there, but, unfortunately, the island was hit by strong wind and rain on that very day. Because of this unfortunate occurrence, a person who claims to be the member to a man whose family that took part in a package tour to the island posted a message on a Yahoo website, demanding partial repayment of the price paid for the tour.

Expenditures totaling 2,145,000 yen for family of 5

Questions posted on a Yahoo webpage
Questions posted on a Yahoo webpage

   The total solar eclipse was to be observed on the Akuishi Island, belonging to the Tokara chain of islands, for the longest period of time in the world at 6 minutes and 25 seconds. On July 22, 2009, the day the eclipse occurred, however, the island was suddenly hit by strong winds and rain, making it most difficult to observe the eclipse.

   According to newspaper reports, the precipitation on the island reached 9 millimeters an hour shortly before the eclipse started around 10 a.m. and winds were blowing at maximum 17 meters per second. The possibility of a tornado was also reported, and television showed the participants in the tours taking shelters from the play ground of the local elementary school and other places.

   The expensiveness of the tour packages to see the eclipse, which was 348,000 yen per a person at cheapest, was also much talked about. Against this backdrop, a person who claims to be the mother of a man who took part in one of the tours posted the following question on the Q&A website of Yahoo:

"Would it be possible to ask the tour company for partial repayment of the price?"

   The mother said that her son's family of five had paid a total of 2,145,000 yen to take part in a tour that would take the family to the island for a stay of three nights and four days. She admitted she had confirmed the condition for taking the tour that it might become impossible to see the eclipse in bad weather. She stressed, however, that the tour package was titled, "Let's See the Total Eclipse," and she insisted that some sort of measures, such as an alternative offer, should be taken.

   She said a proposal was made to the travel agency to change the destiny of the tour to Naha or elsewhere because it had been found out that the weather condition was forecast to be bad for the original destination. But the reply from the agency was it would be too difficult to make a change as proposed. Her posting said that she could "hear over the phone the angry voice of his son and some other families there." "I was really sad," she said. She hinted at taking some legal step against the company.

   It is possible that the posting included some things that were not true, aiming at "fishing" something to talk about. Nevertheless, 540 postings were made in response it.

   Many of the responses posted on the Yahoo website noted the family's own accountability for the situation. But there are similar complaints sent in about the tour.

Poor lodging facilities, infrastructure needed to be coped with

   Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. is the only tourist agency that organized a tour to visit the Akushima Island. The person in charge of the public relations at the company said that the company has not received complaints about the tour. He did not know about the person who posted the question on the Yahoo internet page. He said he was prepared to respond if an inquiry was made.

   The tour provided lodging in tents and a school gymnasium. Originating in Kagoshima and Naha, the tour was priced at as expensive as more than 340,000 yen. About the expensiveness, the person in charge explained that "the island is poor in lodging facilities. Infrastructure has to be established. It costs a lot to prepare a water tank, a chef to cook meals, temporary shower rooms, toilets and electricity." The high cost had to be charged as part of the price, and that is why the price was high.

   About measures to be taken in case of possible bad weather, the person said that alternatives would be difficult and that making of changes would be unpractical. He said it would also be too difficulty to prepare for alternative activities in case of observing the eclipse was impossible. "It might happen that the weather turns suddenly fine for just a moment during the time of the eclipse. It would turn totally dark while the eclipse was going on and this could be experienced anyway. The activities related to the eclipse would last only two or three hours. Other activities, such as parties and tours of the island were also prepared," he said.

   According to the economic affairs section of the Tokara village, where the Akuishi Island is located, the village asked the tour agency to make arrangements to cope with the eclipse because the village was incapable to work out measures alone. One tour agency was selected among five or six companies through planning examination. The official at the section said:

"We have not heard of complaints about the bad weather. I am sorry that we could not see the diamond ring and other phenomena. But it suddenly became dark when the eclipse occurred and the people applauded and clapped their hands. I am sure they could experience the atmosphere. A number of reporters told me that the many visitors had said they were impressed by the warm hospitality extended to them by the residents of the island. I saw visitors saying 'thank you' with tears in their eyes and waving their hands in the end of the tour. I am sure they went home happy."

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