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To make up for a tourism downturn, Japan encourages people to Go To Travel

By Staff Writer
December 16, 2022
Japan has long been a nation of travelers and tourists, stretching back to the newfound stability of the Edo period. The Tokugawa Shogunate’s development of nationwide post roads gave rise to a tourism industry by making long distance journeys safer and opening up unique destinations and experiences for the newly affluent middle class, who were ready to enjoy luxury accommodations and beautiful scenery. This only accelerated during the 20th century, as economic prosperity combined with mass media turned hundreds of spots throughout Japan into tourist destinations that office and factory workers clamored to visit on their holidays.
A traditional-style Japanese inn, with a wooden bridge over a river
Many traditional ryokan-style inns and hot springs got their start during Japan's Edo period, between the 17th and 19th centuries
Internationally, on the other hand, Japan has not always been a common tourist destination. During the 1980s bubble era and before, international travel was out of reach for the average citizen in most of Asia, and the long travel times meant that most people from the US or Europe coming to Japan were doing so for business or other professional reasons.

This began to change during the 1990s and early 2000s, for a number of reasons. Japanese cultural exports such as manga, anime, and J-Pop had created the image of “Cool Japan,” and young people who had grown up enjoying them were now old enough to travel. Improvements in air travel, combined with lower airfares, made long-distance flights less of a daunting proposition. Most of all, economic growth in China and the rest of Asia had created a new middle class eager for holiday sightseeing and shopping. These factors combined to produce a boom in international tourism for once-isolated Japan. By 2019, Japan’s tourism industry contributed over $350 billion to the GDP, the third largest in the world after the United States and China.

In 2020, however, both international and domestic travel ground to a halt due to travel restrictions made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. While many industries in Japan were able to scale back operations and carry on through the emergency, the tourism industry faced a near complete loss of business. To support the industry, as well as the many communities throughout Japan that had depended on tourists, the Japanese government launched the Go To Travel campaign in the summer of 2020.

Available to residents and international travelers alike, Go To Travel was designed to encourage travel by reducing many of the costs, while still enabling local businesses to earn much-needed revenue. The plan worked by offering a combination of government-supported discounts and government-issued coupons covering up to half (to a limit of \20,000) per person per day of travel, lodging, food, and entertainment expenses when used domestically. There were no limits to how frequently the offer could be used, so would be travelers could save money visiting multiple spots throughout the country.
A man and a woman check in at a hotel, guests and employees are all wearing masks
Hotels and other businesses in Japan are continuing to ensure the health and safety of their guests
On top of this offer, nearly every prefecture in Japan launched their own prefectural discount, offering a further \7,000 in accommodation and other savings for people traveling within the same region. Part of this was to encourage people to visit local tourist spots that risked being overlooked, as well as to reduce crowding at the most popular destinations. Together, these programs were very successful in in providing much needed support to the many businesses and communities that depend on tourism.

Now as 2022 draws to a close and Japan has begun readmitting international travelers, a renewed Go To Travel program has been announced, starting from December or at the start of January 2023. “We hope that by making full use of the National Travel Discount program, people will be able to enjoy long distance trips using public transport, including on weekdays,” said Mr. Tetsuo Saito, Japan’s Minister of Tourism, during a recent news conference. The new plan, which requires proof of three vaccinations and a negative PCR test, will cover up to 40% of transportation and other expenses.
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