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Japan's campaign to revive domestic tourism sparks controversy

(Xinhua)    09:48, July 20, 2020

A shopping mall is temporarily closed in Tokyo's Harajuku District, Japan, on May 4, 2020. The Japanese government has recently proposed to help the tourism industry through the current difficulties by boosting domestic tourism which, seen as a source of economic growth, has been in trouble since the start of the year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, in the context of the recent resurgence of the pandemic in Japan, the promotion of tourism has sparked controversy. Experts have said the outbreak is likely to persist for a long time, and fighting the epidemic while promoting tourism recovery is bound to be difficult. The recovery of Japan's tourism industry may be a long process, they said. (Xinhua/Du Xiaoyi)

TOKYO, July 19 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese government has recently proposed to help the tourism industry through the current difficulties by boosting domestic tourism which, seen as a source of economic growth, has been in trouble since the start of the year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, in the context of the recent resurgence of the pandemic in Japan, the promotion of tourism has sparked controversy. Experts have said the outbreak is likely to persist for a long time, and fighting the epidemic while promoting tourism recovery is bound to be difficult. The recovery of Japan's tourism industry may be a long process, they said.

Since the beginning of this year, the number of foreigners visiting Japan has dropped sharply due to the epidemic, and domestic travel by Japanese citizens has also stagnated. Accommodation, catering, transport and tourism-related retail and souvenir production are facing an extremely difficult condition, with related unemployment and bankruptcies rising rapidly.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan fell 58.3 percent in February and 93 percent in March from a year earlier, according to the government's tourism bureau. The number of foreign visitors fell to 2,600 in June, down 99.9 percent year-on-year. Japanese citizens also spent significantly less on domestic travel.

By the end of 2019, domestic travel by Japanese citizens had been the mainstay of Japan's tourism market. According to the Japan Tourism Agency of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japanese people spent about 23.2 trillion yen (216.7 billion U.S. dollars) on domestic travel in 2019, accounting for more than 80 percent of Japan's tourism market. The total consumption of foreigners visiting Japan was only 4.8 trillion yen (44.8 billion dollars), accounting for 17.2 percent.

To help the tourism industry weather the storm by boosting domestic travel, the Japanese government plans to launch a domestic travel promotion campaign called "Go To Travel" starting July 22.

The program subsidizes domestic travel in Japan, with the government providing up to half of the costs of travels. Each tourist can get a subsidy of up to 20,000 yen (186.8 dollars) per day when going on a lodging trip, while a one-day round trip can be subsidized up to 10,000 yen (93.4 dollars).

The specific forms include 35-percent discounts on transportation and accommodation expenses, and 15-percent discounts on catering, shopping, sightseeing and transportation expenses in tourist destinations by using coupons.

However, the epidemic has recently rebounded in Japan, especially as the number of daily new infections in Tokyo has been rising. There were 662 new confirmed cases nationwide on Saturday, second only to the record high of 720 confirmed cases on April 11. In Tokyo, 290 new cases were confirmed on Saturday.

Against the background, many have expressed deep concern against the nationwide tourism promotion campaign. They feared that the mass movement of people would lead to a wide spread of the coronavirus. A number of officials, including Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, have made their objections clear.

In the face of questions, the Japanese government was forced to adjust its plan and exclude Tokyo from the campaign. Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura has said that neither Tokyo residents nor people traveling to the capital would be allowed to take part in the promotion campaign.


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