Gas stations in tourist areas in Japan are having a tough time this summer holiday season, including the Bon period, when sales of gasoline are normally high, as the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus is sapping demand for long-distance car travel.
The average retail price of regular gasoline across the country stood at ¥134.5 per liter as of Aug. 3, down about ¥10 from the levels shortly before the Bon period in mid-August last year, according to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.
Gasoline demand tumbled more than 20 percent year on year in April and May this year, when the government's state of emergency over the epidemic was in place, but is believed to have risen back to close to the previous year's level.
Still, demand is unlikely to increase dramatically for the time being, with many in Japan seen refraining from making trips, including those for visiting parents' homes, amid the coronavirus crisis.
Dozens of tourist buses have visited a gas station near Lake Yamanaka in Yamanashi Prefecture for refueling on each day of August in recent years. But a worker at the gas station said, "We haven't seen even a single tourist bus coming to the store this summer," adding that the number of individual customers, including those visiting their holiday homes around the lake, which is a two-hour drive from Tokyo, has nearly halved.
The gas station had expected that the government's Go To Travel campaign, aimed at supporting the travel industry struggling amid the epidemic, would boost demand for tourism. But such hopes have fizzled out as trips departing from Tokyo, as well as those to the capital, were excluded from the travel discount campaign, which started on July 22.
Wakamatsu Sekiyu, a gas station in the city of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, is also taking a hit from the coronavirus fallout, seeing the number of customers this summer fall to about 70 percent of last year's levels.
"This year could be the worst year for us" since the gas station was opened about 40 years ago, its manager said. Nikko is a famous tourist destination, having, among other things, a UNESCO World Heritage site comprising Toshogu and Futarasan, both Shinto shrines, and Rinnoji, a Buddhist temple.
An official of a national association of gas station operators said, "We'll keep a close watch on the situation because sales performances in summer would have major management impacts."
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