Japan travel campaign will remain halted even after emergency lifts

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Nakamise shopping street at Sensoji temple with some people wearing masks during the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Japan will continue to suspend its domestic travel subsidy program, set up to support its struggling tourism industry, even after a state of emergency covering many prefectures has been fully lifted.

The country has been grappling with a third wave of Covid-19 infections since last December, prompting the national government to issue stay-at-home orders for residents of Tokyo and nine other heavily populated areas. The government’s Go To Travel program, which would have facilitated the spread of Covid-19 in Japan according to several academic studies, was also postponed on December 28.

Several studies have linked Japan’s domestic travel campaign to rising Covid infections across the country

In recent days, however, Japan has shown signs of emerging from the third wave, generating optimism for the hard-hit hospitality and travel sectors. The number of new Covid-19 cases has fallen to around 1,200 a day, from more than 7,000 new cases a day for consecutive days in mid-February.

In another positive move, the state of emergency was lifted in Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Gifu and Aichi prefectures on March 1, a week ahead of schedule. Tokyo and its neighbors (Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitma), meanwhile, are set to exit emergency declaration status on March 7 if all Covid-19 risk assessment criteria are met.

Assessing the spread of Covid-19 in each prefecture should be an important consideration as the government considers the return of the Go To Travel program. On February 28, government officials announced that the infection situation in each region would be analyzed and infection prevention measures would be taken before the program was reinstated.

Still, with or without the national subsidy initiative in place, tourist attractions are hoping the positive consumer sentiment resulting from the lifting of the state of emergency will keep visitors coming back. In addition, local tourism should recover first.

Alex Bradshaw, overseas business manager at the traditional garden and stately home Sengan-en in the city of Kagoshima, said his “immediate priority” was to engage his local market in Kagoshima Prefecture.

“We are cautiously awaiting a slow and steady return of visitors with the lifting of the state of emergency and have, of course, kept strict Covid prevention measures in place,” he said. “As a primarily outdoor attraction, we are well positioned to attract visitors looking to reconnect with nature and relax, (and) we expect that to be a strength for the future.”

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