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The government’s abrupt announcement Thursday to exclude Tokyo from a national tourism campaign has sparked questions and criticism about why only the capital has been left out and whether or not the exclusion will really help contain the coronavirus.

Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, whose ministry is in charge of the Go To Travel campaign, which offers a 50 percent government subsidy for domestic travel, described the decision as heart-breaking but necessary given the recent spike in infections in Tokyo in particular. It was a decision, he said, that was made in close consultation with experts on a government coronavirus subcommittee.

“Tokyo is an important tourist destination and many who live in Tokyo travel elsewhere. We recognize there will be an economic effect of excluding these people from the Go To Travel campaign,” Akaba told reporters Friday morning.

According to an estimate by Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, the campaign, if launched from the initial plan of August nationwide, will push up 55 percent of the travel industry market and contribute up to ¥2.8 trillion for the industries of travel, restaurants and event organizers.

With Tokyo excluded from the plan for the time being, there are concerns about its ability to boost domestic tourism spending. The campaign is slated to start Wednesday.

“But more than the economic effect, we considered the safety policy that needed to be taken, based on the advice of experts,” Akaba said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also apologized to reporters for the way the decision was made.

“We made the decision (to exclude Tokyo) just as a large increase in Tokyo infections was recorded,” he explained.

On Friday, Tokyo saw a record 293 new coronavirus cases.

Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba speaks during a news conference on Friday in Tokyo. | KYODO
Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba speaks during a news conference on Friday in Tokyo. | KYODO

“I want the capital’s residents to feel reassured, and I hope that together — with the Cabinet Office and the governors of neighboring municipalities — to eliminate the risk of travel between prefectures,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said.

The number of cases in the capital has been on the rise for the past weeks, triggering concern by local governors that campaign users from Tokyo would spread the coronavirus to other prefectures with fewer medical personnel and facilities.

Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono, for one, called on Tokyoites to think about the potential for infection and avoid unnecessary travel to his prefecture. Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura had called on the government to limit the Go To Travel campaign to intraregional travel rather than to anywhere within Japan.

Excluding Tokyo from a government travel campaign has provoked questions about how feasible it is to check whether tourists are from the capital. | AFP-JIJI
Excluding Tokyo from a government travel campaign has provoked questions about how feasible it is to check whether tourists are from the capital. | AFP-JIJI

Even distant prefectures that rely heavily on tourists from Tokyo joined the call.

On Thursday night, Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki said the campaign should be revised to travel within prefectures with the same level of infections.

“The situation in each area of the country is different and the government should respond according to the actual infection situation in each area,” Suzuki said.

Excluding Tokyo from the campaign also provoked questions about how feasible it is to check whether tourists are from the capital. There is also a possibility that tourists will stay in Tokyo’s neighboring prefectures and visit Tokyo for the day.

According to the plan, participating hotels and ryokan (traditional inns) will be required at the reception to check the customers’ personal identification to show they do not live in Tokyo. Guests who refuse to provide such identification will be excluded from the discount campaign.

Social distancing at hotel restaurants as well as at local restaurants, will be in place. In addition, all hotels are required to be in contact with local health care centers, including on weekends, to deal with any guests who display symptoms of illness.

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