A new Go To Travel campaign emphasizes safety and security.

Despite earlier success, the program is fraught with uncertainties.

The government may revisit the Go To Travel campaign, launched in July 2020, which was widely viewed as a success at stimulating demand for tourism. | REUTERS

Go To Travel Campaign [Updated Dec 23 2021]

Get the most up-to-date information about the Go To Travel campaign.

According to reports, the Japanese government will resume its Go To Travel domestic travel campaign to aid a struggling tourist industry in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.

While there is excitement about the idea, and forecasts are favorable, there is a lot of ambiguity around the initiative. Only if the government has the mechanisms in place to ensure that a fresh Go To campaign can be carried out safely can it proceed.

Japan’s tourist business has high expectations. The industry was projected to contribute significantly to national wealth and revenue, and this goal was met. From 4.7 million in 2001 to roughly 32 million in 2019, the number of international tourists to Japan has increased dramatically. In 2018, the tourists spent a total of 4.5 trillion dollars. Domestic travel was also growing, with revenues ranging from $20 trillion to $22 trillion in 2019.

When COVID-19 arrived, the bottom dropped out. In 2020, total visitor expenditure fell by 61% to $11 trillion. Foreign visitors plummeted, reverting to 2011 levels, the year of the Great East Japan Earthquake, reversing a decade of advances. The number of Japanese domestic visitors declined by 50% in 2020 compared to the previous year, while travel consumption fell by 54.5 percent.

Concerned, the Japanese government started the Go To Travel campaign in July 2020, with a budget of 1.315 trillion yen, to boost tourist demand. Through a mix of discounts and coupons, it paid up to 50% of an individual’s travel expenses, including transportation, meals, and hotel, up to a maximum of 20,000 per stay. The program reached 90 million individuals, however it was halted in December because to an increase of COVID-19 cases.

The initiative was hailed as a huge success. According to one estimate, it increased consumer spending by $1.46 trillion, although several economists were unconvinced. They replied that the majority of individuals who took advantage of the campaign would have gone anyhow, and those who were afraid of the coronavirus would have stayed home regardless of the inducement. When tourism expenditure was compared to non-subsidized consumption goods, there was minimal difference.

The possibility of recovering from COVID-19 and developing a vaccine and tablets to prevent future infection has persuaded Fumio Kishida’s administration to continue the initiative. In the early months of 2022, assuming there is no sixth wave of the virus, a revised Go To Travel campaign will be launched.

According to early versions, the program will be reduced to 30% of overall expenditures, with the maximum discount reduced to $10,000 from $14,000. The discount will be up to 3,000 for a day excursion. According to preliminary projections, the new program will create $3.7 trillion in revenue and demand for 210 million guest nights, albeit the magnitude and scope of the subsidy will have a big impact.

If properly handled, a Go To Travel campaign makes sense. To begin, safeguards must be in place to verify that passengers have proof of immunization or submit a COVID-19 test that is negative. This must be followed to the letter. There is evidence that the Go To Travel campaign aided in the spread of COVID-19 variations across the country and sparked Hokkaido’s third wave of illness. The government has acknowledged the necessity for a safe and secure system, with Prime Minister Kishida personally stating that this is a top priority.

According to reports, the government would organize payments to minimize traffic congestion, with weekday journeys getting priority. Not only will this lessen crowds, but it will also encourage people to take use of official vacation days, a long-sought national goal; Japan’s average number of paid vacation days is lower than in many other nations.

The program should also make an effort to encourage people to visit less-traveled places and regions. Incentives to stay in small and medium-sized hotels and inns rather than the larger chains might help with this.

The software must also be correctly operated, which is the third condition. There have been claims that certain travel agencies fabricated reports for reimbursement, and Go To Travel program officials were not aware of this. The errors were discovered by an audit board. In actuality, the program’s administration was delegated to a “tourist industry joint recommendation committee” with no motive to discipline violators. That won’t happen again in the future iteration.

Several prefectural governments and municipalities have created their own discount schemes in addition to the new program’s trial runs, which ended last month. They provide subsidies or discounted rates for stays at certain hotels in their domains. This has some attraction, but a rivalry among prefectures or towns that spends more money than it earns is unsustainable. That is why a program run by the federal government is so critical.

Government checks and balances, on the other hand, cannot be overlooked. While overall spending must be considered, a pandemic is (ideally) a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for which governments must be prepared to respond. Furthermore, significant amounts of money in the budget were unused last year; according to reports, almost half of the initial Go To Travel budget, or around 1.3 trillion, is still available.

The national daily infection rate remains modest, but the introduction of the omicron form might change that, particularly as Japan prepares for the year-end and New Year vacations; Japan Railway has already recorded an 81 percent rise in bullet and express train reservations over last year.

If Japan can make it through the new year without another increase of cases, it may be ready to resume the Go To Travel campaign. Safety and security must remain a top priority for the administration.

👉 Credit: A new Go To Travel campaign emphasizes safety and security.

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