Can Japan Lure Back Tourists with Slashed Hotel Rates?

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Tokyo's popular Shibuya District.

Earthquake devastation. Continuing tsunami threats from aftershocks. Fears of a nuclear meltdown.  Contaminated fruit and vegetables. We understand why you wouldn’t want to visit Japan right now. But in reality, it might be the best time to visit.

Tourism has dropped by 32% this year, but hotel rates have dropped even more. With Japan registering plunging tourism numbers compared to last year, hoteliers are slashing prices in a huge way. For the owners, a heavily discounted hotel room is better than an empty hotel room. And for tourists, a minimum of 50% off the nightly rate can be equivalent to saving a small fortune.

(PHOTOS: The Calamity of Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami)

The stunning Hotel New Otani in Tokyo, an urban resort in the country’s capital city, usually offers rooms for a whopping 30,000 yen ($386). But a new special slashes the rate by 50% or more, indeed an affordable rate for a luxury hotel. One traveler tells GlobalPost she was able to secure a 1,000 yen ($13) room with the modern “b hotel” chain during her visit, a savings of more than 80%. That’s a steep enough discount to lure any potential tourist.

January saw a boon of tourism for Japan, with 11% more visitors traveling to the nation than in January 2010. But when the earthquake and tsunami hit in March, tourism dropped by 50% over the same time last year. And the numbers have failed to improve, as Japan has seen at least 35% fewer tourists each month since the catastrophe. Overall, as of June, tourism has dropped by 32.6% when compared to 2010.

With Japanese tourism officials proclaiming that their country is indeed safe to tourists, and the bulk of the damage away from the main cities, what’s keeping people away? It’s worth noting that Tokyo and Osaka routinely top lists of the most expensive cities in the world. The strong yen and high standard of living in Japan keep costs prohibitive, particularly for travelers who are converting their local currency into yen. And the hoteliers have realized that they are the primary gatekeepers. Let the discounts flow.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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