Japan will continue the suspension of its domestic travel subsidy programme, introduced to support its ailing tourism industry, even after the state of emergency covering numerous prefectures is fully lifted.
The country has been grappling with a third wave of Covid-19 infections since last December that prompted the national government to issue stay-at-home requests for residents in Tokyo and nine other heavily-populated areas. The government’s Go To Travel scheme, which may have facilitated the spread of Covid-19 in Japan according to several academic studies, was also postponed on December 28.
In recent days, however, Japan has shown signs of exiting the third wave, generating optimism for the hard-hit hospitality and travel sectors. The number of new Covid-19 cases has declined to about 1,200 per day, down from more than 7,000 new cases a day for consecutive days in mid-February.
In a further positive move, the state of emergency was lifted in Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Gifu and Aichi prefectures on March 1, one week before scheduled. Tokyo and its neighbours (Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitma), meanwhile, are slated to exit the emergency declaration status on March 7 if all Covid-19 risk assessment criteria are met.
Assessment of the Covid-19 spread in each prefecture is expected to be an important consideration as the government mulls the return of the Go To Travel programme. On February 28, government officials announced that the infection situation in each region would be analysed and through infection prevention measures taken before the programme is reinstated.
Still, with or without the domestic subsidy initiative in place, tourism attractions are hopeful that positive consumer sentiment resulting from the lifting of the state of emergency will entice visitors back. Moreover, local tourism is likely to revive first.
Alex Bradshaw, head of overseas business at traditional garden and stately home Sengan-en in Kagoshima City, said that its “immediate priority” is engaging its local market in Kagoshima Prefecture.
“We are cautiously expecting a slow and steady return of visitors with the lifting of the state of emergency and have, of course, kept strict measures for the prevention of Covid in place,” he said. “As a primarily outdoor attraction, we are in a good position to attract visitors looking to reconnect with nature and relax, (and) expect this to be a strength going forward.”