The Japanese government plans to restart its domestic travel subsidy programme, Go To Travel, in February, as it looks to revitalise the pandemic-hit tourism economy.
The Japan Tourism Agency-run scheme, which covered up to half of travellers’ expenses, was initially in place from July to December 2020, but was halted amid a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases nationwide.
Discussions on the programme’s resumption follow the lifting of states of emergency across the country, the decline of new and serious infections and the full vaccination of 77 per cent of the population as of end-October.
However, the scheme will be implemented under more stringent measures in response to the criticism it received last year for contributing to the spread of Covid-19. Procedures to confirm travellers’ vaccination status or virus test results have been trialled since October, with operational guidelines to be devised by the end of this month.
Japan’s tourism minister Tetsuo Saito said the resumption of the Go To Travel campaign is “crucial for the recovery of tourist sites and local economies,” adding that “it is important to balance the prevention of contagion and the promotion of tourism”.
Sebastien Duval, community director at travel agency Japan Travel KK, said a successful restart of the Go To Travel programme “would prove that travel is relatively safe,” which in turn could lead to “return to business as usual for domestic stakeholders” and even accelerate the reopening of borders to international tourists.
Kyoko Nagano, founder of Mypal Inc, an agency for cultural tourism-related businesses, agreed that the programme could be a lifeline, particularly to regional operators. Many breweries that she supports resumed in-person tours as late as October 1 so she said they should “see a good impact” from Go To Travel via tour participant numbers and sales at souvenir shops.
Mid- and lower-priced hotels and ryokan inns are also expected to enjoy greater business under the restart, as plans are underway to reduce discount rates for accommodations. This move is intended to avoid the concentration of travellers at luxury options, which was another criticism of the initial scheme.