November 28, 2021

Virus spike hits Japan travel industry hard

An explosive resurgence of COVID-19 across Japan is weighing heavily on the tourism industry, which had high hopes for a recovery in travel demand during the summer vacation period.

Industry disappointment was exacerbated by the Japanese government’s decision on Friday to extend its state of coronavirus emergency to Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, all neighboring Tokyo, and West Osaka Prefecture and to grant a new pre-emergency status to five prefectures, including Kyoto, which has many tourist sites. The state of emergency currently covers Tokyo and Okinawa Prefecture.

“We typically see our rooms fully occupied in August, but the room reservation rate was less than 50% for August of this year,” said a manager at a Kyoto city hotel. “This summer could end like this. “

Sales almost halved from the previous year at a souvenir shop in the same town. “We have no expectations for the summer vacation period as new cases of COVID-19 have increased rapidly,” said Moe Yamauchi, store manager.

The state of emergency for the prefectures of Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Osaka, and the pre-emergency for Kyoto and four other prefectures will run from Monday to August 31. The state of emergency for Tokyo and Okinawa, which was due to end on August 22, has been extended until the end of August.

The main travel agency JTB Corp. recently said that the number of people in Japan who will make overnight domestic trips this summer is expected to rise 5.3% from the previous year. But the current resurgence of the virus was not factored into the projection.

“We can no longer expect the number of travelers to increase as expected,” said a source from the tourism industry.

“The situation is so bad that I don’t know what to say,” said Hideyuki Sato, a senior official with the Japan Association of Ryokan and Hotels.

Some hotel operators and ryokan Japanese-style hostels are considering closing their businesses, according to Sato.

Hoping that advances in COVID-19 vaccinations will lead to a resumption in travel demand, the association plans to provide financial support to struggling member hotels and ryokan facilities to help them continue their operations.

Transport companies are also going through a difficult period in the face of the pandemic. Many major players, such as East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, and airline group ANA Holdings Inc., reported consolidated net losses for April-June.

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