Some tourism operators on P.E.I. are seeing a huge drop in visitors from Japan, and the H1N1 swine flu virus is getting the blame.
The Island is a popular destination for the Japanese, many of whom have an infatuation with Anne of Green Gables, the fictional heroine of P.E.I. author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Last year was the centenary of the publication of the first of Montgomery's Anne novels and a banner year for tourism from Japan.
The industry was hoping it could hold up something close to the 2008 numbers this year, but instead, numbers have fallen off a cliff.
"Seventy-five or 80 per cent has to be the minimum that they're down," George Campbell told CBC News Thursday.
Campbell owns the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner and several other tourist businesses that rely heavily on Japanese tourism, especially in the shoulder seasons.
"It's really hard to take because it was going to be a really good year for the Japanese," Campbell said. "The expectation was it wasn't going to be quite as good as last year but almost as good."
Comparisons to the banner year of 2008 can be misleading, but operators report that even when compared with 2007 there is a drop of about 40 per cent.
Two companies, P.E.I. Select Tours and Prince Edward Tours, cater almost exclusively to Japanese tourists. P.E.I. Select Tours said 80 per cent of their bus tours for the Japanese have been cancelled. They've had to lay off four staff.
Prince Edward Tours said it would normally host between 10 and 30 Japanese visitors per day, and Thursday they had only one.
"They are scared of H1N1 because … the Japanese media are just bad, and they are scared of coming anywhere," said Katsue Masuda of P.E.I. Select Tours, referring to the influenza virus that has been spreading around the world since first appearing in Mexico in March.
"Not only Canada but anywhere to travel, even inside of Japan."
In a normal year, about 10,000 Japanese visit P.E.I. That represents about one per cent of the Island's annual visitors, but they are worth more than that in dollars. P.E.I.'s Tourism Department says the average North American visitor spends $67 a day during their P.E.I. vacation, but Japanese visitors spend at least $88 a day.
"It's very quiet," said Miwa Fukazawa of Prince Edward Tours.
"It's a little bit disappointing situation. It happened at the beginning of our season."
Earlier this year, tour operators were hoping more Japanese tourists would come to P.E.I. in September and October. But now, with health officials predicting a major jump in swine flu infections in the fall, that seems unlikely.