This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
Japan is a top tourist destination so naturally, news of its government subsidising travel expenses spread fast. However, it turns out that this doesn't necessarily mean cheap flights for foreign travellers.
Following misleading reports, the Japan Tourism Agency clarified in a tweet on Wednesday, May 27 that its proposed “Go To Travel” program is actually meant to “stimulate domestic travel demand,” not international ones. While it does not directly exclude foreign tourists, the cost of getting to Japan will not be subsidised.
It also said that the campaign is still under consideration.
Various international websites had reported that the Japanese government planned to subsidise tourists' flights, leading foreign travellers to believe that their trip to the country could be covered, at least in part.
In reality, subsidies will come in the form of massive discounts and vouchers for restaurants and shops, as well as bookings with local travel agencies and accommodations, Kyodo News reported.
Japan Tourism Agency head Hiroshi Tabata earlier said that the 1.35 trillion yen ($13 billion) program could roll out as soon as July, if the coronavirus situation improves by then, The Japan Times reported. The initiative will cover up to 20,000 yen ($185) per day for travellers.
Like many other countries, Japan suffered a loss in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic. In April, travellers to Japan plummeted 99.9 percent compared to the previous year, due to the pandemic. This was the first time since 1964 that Japan welcomed less than 10,000 tourists in a single month.
The record-low tourist arrivals was partly caused by entry bans that include over 100 countries. The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which were supposed to take place in July and expected to boost tourism, have also been postponed. Japan’s target of welcoming 40 million visitors by 2020, a goal that seemed to be well within grasp until the coronavirus struck out of the blue, has been derailed.
The hospitality industry has taken a hard hit. According to a survey, 31 companies that offer accommodations declared bankruptcy or were planning to do so in April.
Japan is now hoping to return to regular programming, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared an end to the nationwide state of emergency on Monday, May 25. The government previously imposed restrictions like stay-at-home requests and business suspensions in April, but these will be gradually and cautiously relaxed.
While Japan seems to have controlled the virus, experts warn that may still spread undetected, threatening to overwhelm local healthcare systems that are already under immense pressure.
As of writing, there are 16,651 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 858 deaths in the country.