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Tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba announced Tuesday that the government would boost funding for its Go To Travel campaign — a ¥1.35 trillion government plan to promote domestic tourism — after some travel agencies restricted the discounts they were offering amid a surge in reservations.

The campaign was intended to subsidize 35 percent of travel expenses — or up to ¥14,000 — per stay per individual. Rather than being reimbursed by the government after sales were made, funding for the discounts was allocated in advance to individual travel agencies based on the reservations anticipated in the agencies’ sales plans.

As a result, several travel agencies have reduced the value of discounts applied or suspended reservations for trips to certain parts of the country as they have approached the limit of their allocations for the subsidies.

The inclusion of Tokyo to the travel campaign led to a surge in reservations that has forced several travel agencies to lower the maximum available discounts, Akaba said.

“I apologize for the confusion this caused,” Akaba said during a news conference. “We will work to clarify and resolve the issues so that people can enjoy their travels, and the tourism industry can steadily recover.”

Since the campaign began in late July, a number of travel agencies that have depleted their allotted funds for offering the government subsidies have imposed restrictions on discounts — namely the maximum monetary discount available as well as how many times discounts can be used.

In some cases agencies lowered the maximum discount from ¥14,000 to ¥3,500, or limited the number of times an individual could use coupons at a given vendor.

While the new overall budget for the campaign won’t be announced immediately, Akaba said measures would be taken to make the discounts available as originally promised as soon as Wednesday morning.

The government plans to allow individuals who made reservations under the additional restrictions to be able to enjoy full discounts in accordance with the campaign’s original conditions.

The tourism minister also said that, in order to prevent the additional funds from being funneled to bigger, more dominant travel agencies, efforts would be made to spread financial support liberally to the small and mid-size firms that need it the most.

“Our priority is to minimize the costs shouldered by individual consumers as well as travel agencies and other companies in the domestic tourism industry,” he said.

From October Tokyo has been included in the campaign, which initially kicked off in July without the capital as it was in the throws of a surge in COVID-19 infections and officials feared domestic travel would cause the disease to spread.

A staff member displays an
A staff member displays an “open” sign on the door of a restaurant near Gora station in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Oct. 4. The national Go To Travel campaign aimed at spurring domestic travel included Tokyo from this month. | BLOOMBERG

Opponents remain concerned that the campaign will exacerbate the spread of the contagion, which has infected nearly 90,000 in the nation and claimed 1,628 lives.

But the economic impact of the pandemic, officials say, gives them little choice but to provide a helping hand to restaurants, event organizers, hotels and other proprietors of the food, entertainment and travel industries.

Last month, the government announced that planning was underway to introduce the follow-up Go To Event campaign, which would provide a subsidy of up to ¥2,000 for tickets to public events provided organizers are following virus countermeasures.

Applications for a parallel campaign that provides vouchers to selected food establishments — the Go To Eat campaign — began earlier this month.

As businesses continue to struggle under the prolonged doldrums of the pandemic, officials looking to balance economic recovery and public health appear stuck between a rock and a hard place.

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