After months of restricting movement due to the pandemic, you’d think that countless residents of Japan would be itching to get away for a small vacation. Yet, even as the government offers incentives for domestic travel and companies slash prices across the board, many have expressed reservations — if not outright hostility — online about tourism of any sort.
The focus of attention has fallen on the government’s Go To Travel campaign. Slated to start on July 22, the campaign hopes to encourage travel within Japan by offering a range of discounts and coupons to choose from. Although some of the deals look mouthwatering, the reaction on social media hasn’t been great, with plenty of pushback coming from residents of regions that are located far from major metropolitan areas who are worried about the increased possibility of inbound infections.
Huffington Post Japan summed up the reaction in an article posted on July 14. Part of the criticism of the initiative — which was first introduced as infection rates across the country were falling — came from government officials in smaller cities, who expressed concern about the campaign as new cases in Tokyo surged.
Yet the post also touched on how many wholeheartedly disagreed with the push for domestic tourism to be renewed. Criticism came in many forms, with some Twitter users arguing that it was ridiculous to use government funds to promote travel instead of assisting those negatively affected by COVID-19, or highlighting specific failings at hospitals around the country. Others pointed out that numerous excursions — especially school-related trips — had already been canceled. One of the most popular tweets came from someone working in the hotel industry who revealed such establishments hadn’t received a real explanation of what was going on in the first place.
The most prominent concern, however, also happened to align with the criticism raised by government officials, who have argued that the promotion of travel could spread the coronavirus even further. Celebrities added their thoughts on the subject and articles raised the prospect of banning those from metropolitan areas from the campaign. That came to fruition shortly before the Go To Travel campaign was supposed to start, with travel to and from Tokyo expressly excluded from it.
The debate underlined a familiar tension between those living in less populated areas and those in large urban centers, which is essentially a nice way of saying “Tokyo vs. everywhere else.”
Netizens universally rejected the Go To Travel campaign on Twitter, reaching a point where they embraced a recent form of hashtag activism — inspired by critical posts about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to extend the term length of prosecutors — to urge the government to cancel the initiative.
Other social media platforms took up the issue in slightly different ways.
Instagram users, by comparison, discussed the issue from a rosier perspective, posting images of destinations that would be great to visit if one were to take advantage of the deals on offer. It’s fair to say a few critical images were also posted as well, but they attracted much less attention than the escapist fare.
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This isn’t to say Instagram users are suggesting that everyone take advantage of the offer, more that people are dreaming of locations to visit in the future or fantasizing about trips abroad that can’t happen during a pandemic. Even people working in the tourism industry — who could have used the opportunity to promote a sector that has been ruined by the pandemic — have expressed a degree of hesitation about anyone actually visiting due to a recent surge in recorded cases, instead imagining a time in which tourists could come out in safer conditions.
Time will tell as to whether or not the Go To Travel campaign might help the virus spread more widely. Perhaps it would have been better for the government to mimic the approach adopted by Instagram users and encourage people to imagine a brighter future beyond this pandemic than get the wheels rolling on an industry before the situation is clearer.