May 18, 2022

Japan travel campaign doubly hurts Tokyo residents, East Asian news and top stories

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Pressure from Japan to help revive its virus-ravaged economy with a ‘Go To’ travel campaign has dealt a double blow to Tokyo, whose residents have been deprived of promised travel subsidies and businesses should run out of tourists.

The program, which promotes domestic travel by offering coupons to boost a struggling tourism industry, begins Wednesday, July 22 ahead of a four-day holiday weekend.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government last week decided to deport residents of Tokyo after daily confirmed coronavirus cases hit record highs in the capital and fueled fears the plan could spread the virus.

After betting its prospects for an economic recovery on domestic demand, Japan, which has relied heavily on Chinese tourists in recent years, has gone further than most countries in encouraging domestic travel after falling nearly 100% foreign visitors during the pandemic.

The resurgence of cases in large urban centers, however, highlights the challenges governments face as they attempt to balance rebuilding their economies with an ever-evolving health crisis.

Residents of Tokyo, who pay the largest share of income taxes of any region in Japan, are unhappy about not receiving travel subsidies and have raised questions about the legality of their exclusion.

The companies say the cancellations have resulted in lost revenue and the government’s response is unclear.

Tokyo-based software engineer Takehito Fukui is caught in the mix.

He booked a 300,000 yen (S $ 3,886.50) four-day vacation to Okinawa for his family last month after the campaign was announced, expecting at least a third of the trip to be subsidized .

“Honestly, I feel like I’ve been cheated,” Mr. Fukui said in an interview.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Tuesday she could urge residents to avoid unnecessary travel over the next four-day weekend, originally scheduled to celebrate the start of the now postponed Tokyo Olympics.

The total number of confirmed virus cases topped 10,000 in Tokyo after about 230 infections were discovered on Wednesday.

Following public criticism, Transport Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said the government would pay cancellation fees for trips to and from Tokyo booked between July 10 and July 17.

But the problems with the program were seen by many as another misstep in Mr Abe’s handling of the virus, which many saw as slow and haphazard at times.

About 60% of those polled said they were unhappy with the government’s response to the virus, according to a weekend survey conducted by the Mainichi newspaper and the Social Survey Research Center.