• Hokkaido Shimbun

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With travel restrictions imposed on tourists from abroad, the novel coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on tourism in Hokkaido, causing the closure of many minpaku private lodging providers in Sapporo.

As the situation continues to prove challenging for those offering accommodation, a Sapporo-based association of private housing providers launched a campaign recently aiming to attract domestic travelers from across the nation.

Under the campaign, which is partially subsidized by the city of Sapporo, visitors will be given discounts of ¥2,000 per person for an overnight minpaku stay as well as ¥2,000 worth of meal coupons. The campaign will be limited to 4,000 people on a first-come, first-served basis.

In the six months to August, 709 minpaku properties closed down in Sapporo, their number reduced as of Sept. 1 to around 80 percent of that seen when supply peaked.

According to Sapporo authorities, the number of closures monthly has been around 30 or less since the Private Lodging Business Act came into force in June 2018.

But the situation changed for the worse in March, when the daily number of COVID-19 infections shot up, causing the number of minpaku enterprises ceasing operations to increase sharply to 110.

The figure then doubled the following month to 215, setting a record. Many operators are now simply switching their lodgings to residential rooms for rent.

Normally, about 70 percent of those seeking lodgings in private housing are overseas tourists.

But with travel restrictions remaining in place, it is unlikely that the number of such visitors will recover anytime soon.

In July and August, no foreign travelers arrived in or departed from Japan via Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport.

Kunihiko Minami, 45, director of the Hokkaido association of private housing renters, says the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on his own business, and that he had closed six out of seven properties in Sapporo by this summer.

“Over the past six months, since March, we stayed open, but we had close to no customers,” he lamented.

With the pandemic, private lodgings are now being used by many medical workers who want to avoid the risk of infecting family members, according to the association.

Private properties have also been used by friends and colleagues gathering in small groups to eat take out or delivery food there, it said.

“I hope (the campaign) will become an opportunity to realize the benefits of private renting,” Minami said.

This section features topics and issues from Hokkaido covered by the Hokkaido Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the prefecture. The original article was published on Sept. 16.

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