In response to the government’s decision on Thursday to lift the coronavirus state of emergency for nine prefectures, hopes are rising in the tourism industry for the recovery of demand.
At the same time, the situation of eating and drinking establishments is likely to remain difficult as it is not clear to what extent alcoholic beverages will be allowed to be served in different prefectures.
At a Thursday press conference, East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) Chairman Tetsuro Tomita, who also serves as a vice-chairman of the Japan Travel and Tourism Association, expressed his view that the number of tourists, which has been falling, will begin to recover with a higher rate of novel coronavirus vaccinations.
“Vaccinations have been making progress and a sense of reassurance over-tourism is being created,” Tomita said.
There are signs of a recovery in demand among major tourist companies.
The number of people who made reservations with Nippon Travel Agency Co. for tours in Japan in July was up by 40% from July 2020 — although it was still 80% lower than in July 2019, before the pandemic began.
“I think with the progress in vaccinations, there could be a further recovery of tourist demand,” a company spokesperson said.
At Prince Hotels Inc., the number of guest room reservations at its three hotels in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, in July grew 70% from a year earlier. According to a Prince Hotels spokesperson, the reservations improved in the past few weeks.
Reservations at hotels in Japan run by Hoshino Resorts Inc. in July and August have been a little higher than in the same period last year.
Airlines also predict the recovery of passengers.
Japan Airlines had planned to operate about 61% of its initially planned number of flights as of June 17, but it increased that ratio to 76% in July. The company plans to raise it further to 86% in anticipation of high demand during the four consecutive holidays from July 22 to 25.
JR East decided to confirm the operation of 16 out of 58 limited express trains on conventional lines, whose status had been uncertain, from July 1 to 15. It had suspended selling tickets for reserved seats on these limited expresses as it could not ensure their operation during the period.
In contrast, restaurant chains have taken cautious views.
In seven prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, the state of emergency was downgraded to less strict priority measures, under which the central government allows the serving of alcoholic beverages until 7 p.m. if establishments take thorough coronavirus countermeasures. However, each prefectural governor has been given the discretion to decide whether to continue to call on eating and drinking establishments to refrain from serving alcoholic beverages at all.
For that reason, restaurant chains intend to decide how to react after prefectural governments present concrete policies.
Watami Co. has suspended the operation of about 200, or two-thirds, of its izakaya Japanese-style pubs in Japan. A spokesperson said: “Even if serving alcoholic beverages is allowed, customers would be virtually unable to drink during the shortened business hours, which have not changed. The extent to which we can resume service is impossible to predict.”
Since last year, the number of customers at eating and drinking establishments has greatly decreased each time a state of emergency was declared.
According to Toreta Inc., which deals with reservation management services for eating and drinking businesses, the weekly number of visitors to these businesses was down 40% to 70% this year compared with 2019. It remains to be seen how much the figure will recover with the lifting of the state of emergency this time.