Is it possible to strike a balance between the containment of the novel coronavirus and the vitalization of tourism? The government and the tourism industry need to seek ways to restore demand in cooperation with tourists.
The government has presented a policy to make travel to and from Tokyo eligible for the “Go To Travel” tourism promotion program from Oct. 1, although such trips had previously been excluded from the program. It intends to allow the tourism industry to start selling the target products in the program from Friday.
However, the government does not plan to make the final decision until after determining the infection situation in late September. It is desirable to make an early decision to spare users from confusion.
Under the “Go To Travel” campaign, up to 50% of total travel costs are subsidized, with a maximum discount of ¥20,000 per person per night. It began in late July, except in Tokyo, where the number of people infected with the virus had increased rapidly.
Travelers from Tokyo, with a population of about 14 million, accounted for 20% of guests at accommodation facilities around Japan last year. If they continue to be excluded from the “Go To Travel” campaign, it will lack power as a tourism promotion measure. Some Tokyo residents, tourist agencies and others have said that it was unfair to exclude Tokyo from the campaign.
As both the number of new infections and the positive test rate in Tokyo have been on a downward trend since their peak in early August, the direction of the government to include travel to and from Tokyo in the campaign is understandable. The struggling local tourist industries pin high hopes on the government’s campaign.
On the other hand, it is said that use of the tourism promotion program up to now has tended to lean on relatively expensive hotels and ryokan inns. But it is primarily small and midsize businesses that should be rescued under the program. The government intends to secure budgets to help small and midsize businesses. Hopefully, it will present details of the budget swiftly.
What is worrisome is that the inclusion of Tokyo in the campaign could lead to the spread of the infections.
The government should carefully examine the impact of the inclusion of travel to and from Tokyo, and if the rapid spread of infections is confirmed in Tokyo, it should respond flexibly to the situation, such as by considering excluding Tokyo once again.
To realize a full-fledged recovery of travel demand, it is indispensable to ease concerns many people have about the infections with the coronavirus.
Hotels and ryokan inns are taking a number of measures against the virus, including restricted admission of guests to restaurants and bath facilities and checking guests’ temperatures. Hopefully, they will abide by manuals put out by industrial organizations, without relaxing their virus countermeasures.
Thorough implementation of countermeasures against the virus is a prerequisite for participation in the campaign. The government must strengthen its oversight and inspection of the implementation of the campaign, and manage it strictly.
It is important for the government to make efforts, such as through the expansion of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, so that travelers can enjoy themselves with peace of mind, and prepare for an environment in which accommodation facilities can easily accept travelers.
Travelers, for their part, should make efforts to act appropriately. It is important to devise ways to reduce risks, such as avoiding the Three Cs (closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings) at meals or other occasions, going sightseeing only in small groups and basing their trip mainly at their accommodation facilities rather than visiting too many places.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 16, 2020.