Japan to Give Away 10,000 Free Flights to Tourists in 2012

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In an effort to bolster its ailing tourism industry, Japan is making it very enticing for travelers to visit. (via Moneyland)

The Japan Tourism Agency plans to ask prospective travelers to submit online applications for free airfare.  The 10,000 selected will be required to pen a report upon completion of the trip, which will be published online.  This (hopefully positive) word-of-mouth is intended as a way to get some good press for the beleaguered country. Participants will be responsible for their own lodging, food, and ancillary expenses.

“Since the earthquake, the number of visitors has dropped drastically, so to make an impact we think it’s necessary to have this many people (10,000) come to Japan,” Shuichi Kameyama, a Japan Tourism Agency official, told the Wall Street Journal.  The number of foreign tourists dropped 50% year-over-year in the three months following March’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, and spending by foreign visitors declined about 47% in the same period.  Tourism began to pick up slightly over the summer, but is still far from median levels.

(PHOTOS: Japan: Six Months After the Earthquake and Tsunami)

The initiative is estimated to cost the Japan Tourism Agency around $14.3 million, a serious financial commitment that underscores how hard the tourism industry has been hit.

Officials hope the program will ease travelers’ worries about touring Japan after a disastrous 2011.  Japan’s government has assured would-be travelers that the country is safe to visit, with the exception of the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.  The nuclear safety of the country has been a particularly vexing issue for tourists who are concerned about radiation from the plant, which workers are still trying to shut down.  The Japan Tourism Agency has enlisted celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Il Divo to help by collecting testimonials about their love of Japan.

As long as the government approves the national budget, the program is scheduled to begin in April 2012, and the agency will choose its winners by early summer.  Parliament is expected to pass the budget in March.

MORE: Can Japan Lure Back Tourists with Slashed Hotel Rates?

Allison Berry is a contributor at TIME.  You can continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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