TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Wednesday kicked off a national travel campaign aimed at reviving its battered tourism industry, but the effort has drawn heavy criticism amid a jump in new coronavirus cases.
“Go To Travel” - dubbed “Go To Trouble” by some local media - offers subsidies of up to 50% on trips to and from prefectures excluding Tokyo, which was removed from the programme last week after infections surged to new highs.
But many of Japan’s governors wanted the campaign delayed or amended out of fear it would spread the virus to rural areas with low infection numbers, while a Mainichi newspaper poll this week showed 69% of the public wanted the programme cancelled entirely.
The criticism underlines the public’s growing exasperation with what critics say are mixed messages as the government tries to boost the economy while containing the virus.
“There is no change to our stance to cautiously restart economic activity, while asking the public to cooperate in preventing the spread of the coronavirus,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the campaign.
Governor Yuriko Koike, however, urged Tokyo residents to stay home during a four-day weekend beginning Thursday.
“It’s essential for the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions to refrain from making unnecessary outings,” Koike said on Tuesday evening.
Many in the travel industry were frustrated with what they said was a lack of clarity.
“It’s clear the government is scrambling and was totally unprepared. It’s also so hard to get information about this scheme because things change a lot,” said a general manager of a mid-sized business hotel in Osaka, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Hiroaki Gofuku, the president and general manager of Hotel Nikko Osaka, said he hoped that the campaign would be a boost for the ailing tourism industry, but that he was also cautious not to be overly optimistic.
“Tokyo is our big market,” he said. “With this mess, we’re actually seeing more cancellations.”
Economic Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura is also widely expected to announce a delay to the phased reopening of stadiums and events at a meeting on Wednesday.
The government was planning to ease restrictions for stadiums and concert venues starting in August, allowing them to operate at half of maximum capacity. But they are widely expected to reverse their plans with daily infections rising.
Tokyo announced on Wednesday morning that daily infections were expected to reach over 230.
Japan has not seen the kind of rapid spread of the coronavirus that has killed tens of thousands in other countries. But new cases in Tokyo and other cities have sounded alarm bells for a country that had thought it had the virus under control.
Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Gerry Doyle