Take one step at a time to revitalize local tourism

The program must be used to stimulate struggling local tourism industries while taking thorough measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus infections.

The government has announced that the tourism support program of the central and local governments, which has been applied to travel within each prefecture by prefectural residents, will be expanded to travel within regional blocs starting in April.

The nationwide “Go To Travel” campaign has remained completely suspended since the end of 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 infections. The prefecture-based program was introduced in April last year as an alternative.

Each prefectural government operates the program with subsidies from the central government. The program provides a maximum of ¥7,000 per person per night.

It is reasonable to aim to gradually spur tourism demand by expanding the prefecture-based discount program before the Go To program resumes.

For the time being, discounts will be offered for travel that crosses prefectural borders within six regions of the country: Hokkaido-Tohoku, Kanto, Hokuriku-Shinetsu-Chubu, Kinki, Chugoku-Shikoku and Kyushu-Okinawa. The start date and scope of the program will be decided by prefectural governors.

The expanded version of the program will be in effect until stays through the night of April 28, before the long Golden Week holidays. The central government will consider how to deal with the program after that.

Implementation of the expanded program by each prefecture is expected to vary from one prefecture to another. It is important to inform the public in an easy-to-understand manner so that users will not be confused.

The cost of the discount in the program is paid directly by the local government to travel agencies or lodging facilities. Basically, users do not need to apply for the discount, but they need to confirm whether the discount is available when making reservations.

In addition, it should be noted that users of the program must in principle show proof of being vaccinated three times or proof of a negative COVID-19 test result when checking in at accommodations as a condition for using the program.

In many areas, local economies are supported by tourism. However, the number of inbound tourists to Japan has declined sharply and is not expected to recover in the foreseeable future. In the current situation, the only way to spur tourism is to increase demand from domestic travelers.

There are some forecasts that once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides to a certain degree, the number of domestic travelers this year will double compared to the previous year. The program must be effectively utilized for the steady revival of the tourism industry.

Although the number of people newly infected with the virus is declining nationwide, the pandemic has not abated. And there is concern about a potential seventh wave, caused mainly by the BA.2 version of the omicron variant. It is essential to continue to take all possible measures to prevent infections.

Hotels and inns have formulated operation guidelines and taken preventive measures such as checking guests’ and employees’ temperature and installing acrylic panels to prevent infections from spreading via airborne droplets. These measures must be thoroughly implemented. Travelers are also expected to adapt in ways such as traveling in smaller groups and avoiding crowded places.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2022)