Measures should stimulate demand to help revive local economies

The tourism industry is suffering due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. The new measures must effectively stimulate demand that will lead to the revitalization of local economies while working to contain the spread of novel coronavirus infections.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has announced its new tourism support measures covering the entire nation. The ministry aims to start implementing the measures in early July, after assessing the infection situation. The program will continue until the end of August, except for the Bon Festival period.

The measures will mainly subsidize the cost of lodging and the total amount of subsidy will be up to ¥11,000 per person per day, including coupons that can be used for shopping, food and beverages. This is ¥4,000 higher than the current regional travel subsidy program, which only covers travel by residents within a prefecture or bloc of neighboring prefectures.

Prefectural governments have the final say on whether to implement the program. They must apply the measures to travelers from all over Japan, rather than limiting them to tourists from within their prefecture or bloc.

The situation of novel coronavirus infections has now settled down to some extent. It is understandable to encourage long-distance travel from urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka to regional areas.

The total number of domestic travelers in 2021 was less than half of that seen in 2019. The tourism industry is linked to a broader base of consumption, including lodging, food and beverage, and merchandise sales, often propping up local economies. It is important to provide a steady boost through support measures.

The subsidy for lodging is capped at ¥5,000, but its maximum will be raised to ¥8,000 for tour packages including travel using publicly available means such as by Shinkansen trains or commercial airliners. Coupons for use on weekdays will be worth ¥3,000, which is ¥2,000 higher than those for weekend use.

While it is understandable that the government is giving consideration to railroad and airline companies suffering from decreased passenger numbers and is aiming to ease crowding by encouraging people to travel on weekdays, the mechanism of the new program has become somewhat complicated.

It is also difficult to see the difference between this program and the “Go To Travel” campaign, which was implemented on a nationwide scale. The central and local governments need to meticulously disseminate information.

In implementing the program, it is essential to carry out thorough measures to prevent coronavirus infections. The ministry said the program will require users to show proof they have received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccination or to show a negative test result. Each lodging facility should also take basic infection control measures, such as disinfection.

If the measures succeed in smoothly increasing domestic travel while containing the spread of infections, more foreign visitors can be readily accepted to Japan.

The government resumed the entry procedures for inbound tourists, which had been suspended as part of COVID-19 border control measures, on June 10. The resumption has been limited to members of tour groups escorted by guides.

With the yen continuing to weaken, shopping in Japan has become less expensive for foreign visitors. To take advantage of the weak yen, the government should consider accepting more inbound visitors to Japan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 21, 2022)