Japan’s tourism authorities report inbound tourism has returned almost to the level of 2010 following the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of just over a year ago.

Norifumi Idee, Japan Tourism Agency commissioner, told the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Sendai (Japan): “We expect a single-digit reduction in inbound travel this year compared with 2010, which was a record year.”

International visitor numbers had recovered to 12% down year on year in December, the latest month for which figures are available, after falling by 60% following the triple disaster last March of earthquake, tsunami and reactor meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The disaster left up to 20,000 people dead or missing. Noriko Abe, who owned a hotel in the worst-hit region of Tohoku, told the summit: “People were left with only the clothes on their backs.” However, vice-chairman of the summit host committee Mutsutake Otsuka reported: “The Japanese are alive and kicking. Japan’s appeal alive.”

The WTTC’s 2012 summit had been due to take place in Tokyo before the earthquake struck. However, organisers decided to take it to Sendai, at the centre of the damaged region, once the Japanese authorities gave the go-ahead.Hiroaki Takahashi, chairman of the Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organisation, said: “The damage was immense. Recovery was not easy, but we expect to see a move to a full recovery this year.”

An area around the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Tohoku remains closed following the evacuation of the population. However, Takahashi insisted: “There is no problem with daily life [in the rest of Tohoku]. Tourists spots are operating normally. Food and water are safe.”