Virus spike hits Japan’s travel industry hard

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An explosive resurgence of COVID-19 across Japan is weighing heavily on the tourism industry, which had pinned high hopes on a recovery in travel demand during the summer vacation period.

The industry’s disappointment was exacerbated by the Japanese government’s decision on Friday to extend its coronavirus state of emergency to Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, all of Tokyo’s neighbors and the western prefecture of Osaka. and to re-give pre-emergency status to five prefectures, including Kyoto, which has many tourist spots. The state of emergency currently covers Tokyo and Okinawa Prefecture.

“We usually see our rooms fully occupied in August, but the room booking rate was less than 50 percent for August this year,” a Kyoto city hotel manager said. “This summer can end like this.”

Sales nearly halved from a year earlier at a souvenir shop in the same city. “We have no expectation of the summer vacation period as new cases of COVID-19 have increased rapidly,” said store manager Moe Yamauchi.

The state of emergency for Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures, and the pre-emergency for Kyoto and four other prefectures will run from Monday to August 31. The emergency for Tokyo and Okinawa, earlier scheduled to end on August 22, has been extended until the end of August.

The large travel agency JTB Corp. recently said that the number of people in Japan who will take domestic trips of one or more nights this summer is expected to increase by 5.3% compared to the previous year. But the current resurgence of the virus has not been factored into the projection.

“We can no longer expect the number of travelers to increase as expected,” a tourism industry source said.

“The situation is so serious that I don’t know what to say,” said Hideyuki Sato, a senior official with the Japan Ryokan and Hotel Association.

Some hotel operators and ryokan Japanese-style inns are considering closing their businesses, Sato said.

Hoping that progress in COVID-19 vaccinations will lead to a recovery in travel demand, the association plans to provide financial support to struggling member hotels and ryokans to help them continue operations.

Transport companies are also going through a difficult period in the face of the pandemic. Many major players, such as East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, and airline group ANA Holdings Inc., reported consolidated net losses for April-June.

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