Tourist spots in Japan were rocked by the nationwide suspension of the government's Go To Travel discount program from Monday amid the novel coronavirus resurgence.
The year-end and New Year's holiday period, which is normally the busiest season for the tourism industry, is now unprecedentedly quiet. The suspension will continue until Jan. 11 next year, but it is uncertain whether the program will resume after that.
The Kokusai-dori shopping street in Naha, capital of tourism-reliant Okinawa Prefecture, was far from crowded. It is usually packed with tourists during the holiday period.
Chokei Taira, chairman of Kariyushi, a major hotel operator in Okinawa, said the tourism industry in the prefecture was battered by a coronavirus state of emergency issued by the central government in spring, a similar emergency declaration by the Okinawa Prefectural Government in summer and the ongoing suspension of Go To Travel. "Half of the industry's annual sales evaporated," he said.
Meanwhile, Yoshiro Shimoji, chairman of the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau, a public-private foundation, sounded positive, noting that the industry survived the fallout of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States in 2001. "We hope to see a recovery next year by delivering a message both at home and abroad that Okinawa has solid tourism infrastructure," he said.
The suspension also hit Kyoto hard. A hotel near Kiyomizu Temple, a famous Buddhist temple, saw a flurry of cancellations of reservations after the government decided on the suspension Dec. 14. "There has been no inbound demand," a spokesperson at the hotel said.
Kiyotaka Fujiki, owner of a souvenir shop near the temple, said sales during the New Year's holiday period would probably be less than 10% of usual years. "We can't expect good sales," he said.
In the Zao ski resort in Yamagata Prefecture, Suguru Ito, president of Zao Kokusai Hotel, said it will be the most quiet New Year holidays he's ever experienced.
Dogo Onsen hot spring resort, a popular tourist spot in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, is also suffering massive cancellations.
About 60% of room bookings for the Go To Travel suspension period have been canceled, said the manager of a long-established hotel in Dogo Onsen. "We are having few guests, and this is unprecedented for the New Year season," the manager said.
Some tourists visiting Dogo Onsen have shortened their trip schedules in line with the suspension.
"I understand the government's stance, but I think that it will be alright if we are careful," said Hitomi Anegawa, a 64-year-old housewife from the city of Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture.
"I wanted the government to continue the campaign," said Masakazu Matsumoto, a 38-year-old company worker from the city of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture.
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