National

Confusion in Japan's tourism hot spots after Go To Travel reversal

Kyodo

Hotel and shop operators at popular tourist sites have complained of confusion surrounding the government's Go To Travel campaign, which has seen a slew of changes since its formal announcement on July 10, as well as concern about the spread of novel coronavirus infections.

The travel campaign was initially slated to begin in August, then was brought forward to start Wednesday ahead of the four-day long weekend.

But last week, the government suddenly excluded travel to and from Tokyo from the program amid a surge in infections, before making another about face on Tuesday when it decided to shoulder related cancellation fees after initially refusing to do so.

"It was moved forward without a thorough explanation. We have been receiving many inquiries and are disoriented," said Takashi Komabashiri, 63, an executive at the Kirishima Kokusai Hotel, located in the popular Kirishima hot spring resort area of Kagoshima Prefecture.

He said the area was home to many older people and that he was cautious about receiving guests from outside the prefecture. "We want to first cater to local tourism demand, and then expand that to neighboring prefectures and eventually to the Kyushu region, while watching the situation," he said.

Yasuko Goto, 73, who runs a shop near Atami Station in the Atami hot spring area of Shizuoka Prefecture, was worried that an influx of visitors could spread the virus.

"It's great tourists will be coming, but I also feel worried when the number of infected people is increasing to such an extent," she said.

Goto sells seafood in her partly open-air shop, but makes sure she wears a face mask at all times. "In a job like this, you face dangers. But you just have to be careful about communicating with customers," she said.

Kenji Kawasaki, who heads a local inn cooperative in the Yunokawa hot spring resort in Hakodate, Hokkaido, said he wants to promote Hakodate as a safe place to travel as the city has seen only a small number of infections.

Hakodate receives many tourists from the greater Tokyo area every summer, but Kawasaki said the city had faced cancellations in recent days after Tokyo was excluded from the Go To Travel campaign.

"We need to change our strategy to tempt tourists from our neighboring prefectures," he said.

The travel campaign program subsidizes up to half of all travel expenses, including accommodation and transport costs.

But after Tokyo was excluded, the government faced a barrage of criticism from the public — and even from within the ruling coalition — about its initial policy of not compensating those affected by the cancellation fees they had incurred.

"It's only natural that the state should compensate. We don't want (the government) to give us any more trouble," one travel agency staff said.

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