Go To Travel poster in a Kamakura eatery

Go To Travel Adds Further Delay to Foreign Tourists' Comeback to Japan

⏱ 4 minutes

We mentioned several times "Go To Travel" in our articles related to Covid in Japan since spring 🌸 2020, but we never published a dedicated article on this campaign. As it is likely to resume in fall 2021, let’s have a look on what it entails.

What is "Go To Travel"?

Go To Travel is the name of a domestic tourism subsidy campaign intended to reviving Japan’s economy and especially help the tourism industry that was severely hit by the Coronavirus 🦠 pandemic.

It offers to cover 35 to 50% of travel expenses during a trip in Japan, including:

The discount applies for a maximal daily amount of ¥10,000 (~US$88.64) for a day trip, or ¥20,000 (~US$177.29) for an overnight (or more) stay.

The prices displayed by most of the Japanese travel agencies (such as JTB or Rakuten) already include the discount, and it is even offered by websites such as Booking. A voucher can also be provided to use in a restaurant, a place to visit or in a shop to pay less.

Who can benefit from Go To Travel?

Contrary to a widespread belief, the campaign is not exclusive to Japanese nationals. However, it is practically the case: one must be resident of Japan to qualify for it.

As a matter of fact, it has been very difficult to get a Japanese visa since the end of 2020, and the "happy few" meet specific criteria. Beside Japanese nationals, almost only expatriates who were already living in Japan before Covid can therefore benefit from the campaign.

Naturally, overseas tourists who will come back in Japan in 2022 (after the borders’ reopening) will not be in the scope of Go To Travel.

The total budget for the campaign initially amounted to 1,35 trillion Yens (~12 billions dollars) and on the first month of implementation in summer 2020, it benefited to 2 million Japanese.

When does the campaign take place?

In 2020, it was opened from July 22 to December 28, except in Tokyo where it only lasted from October 1 to December 18. It was intended to last about one year until June 2021, but the winter 3rd wave has disrupted the initial timeline.

In 2021, the restart of Go To Travel is expected in autumn 🍁. It was, by the way, an election promise of the new Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, with the condition of implementing a health passport. Tests have therefore been conducted during the second half of October (especially in Kyoto, Hokkaido and Fukuoka) to assess the limitation to vaccinated travelers in the new "Go To Travel" program.

On Monday October 25, all restrictions imposed on restaurants (serving alcohol prohibition, restricted opening hours…) were lifted and it is certainly not a calendar coincidence.

Why is it controversial?

All along during its implementation in 2020, the subsidy campaign was accused of spreading Covid on the Japanese territory, as it incited people to travel throughout the archipelago and to eat indoors (without sanitary masks 😷 of course). A study by Kyoto University even confirmed this fact in January.

It is worth noting that, during 2021 state of emergency, that never really stopped during the first 9 months of the year, the government strongly recommended not to travel between prefectures.

"Go To Travel" was consequently considered an hypocrisy, as Covid was widely spread on the Japanese territory despite closed borders, and Japanese people could always travel overseas whereas Japan refused (and still does) to accept foreign tourists on its territory.

In 2021, despite the 5th wave in summer, the most violent regarding the number of cases largely due to the Delta variant, the return of the domestic tourism incentive campaign was on the table as soon as things calm down. This stance is also understandable as the will to further delay the borders’ reopening to foreign tourists.

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"Go To Travel" is certainly the key for an economic recovery of the tourism industry, but it is only the first step towards a gradual and orderly reopening:

  1. Go To Travel (likely in November),
  2. Business visas (likely in November 2021),
  3. Students’ visas (probably by the end of 2021, to ensure a good start of the year in April 2022), Japan being the last country of the G7 to reinstate them, whereas many foreign students must attend virtual classes during the night due to the time difference,
  4. Working holiday visas (in the wake of Students’ visas), and,
  5. Lastly, tourists (starting in early 2022).

The objective of attracting 60 million visitors in Japan in 2030 was however never abandoned, despite the pandemic, and was reasserted in early October by the new Minister of Tourism Tetsuo Saito.

Updated on October 28, 2021 - Go To Travel retarde encore un peu le retour des touristes étrangers au Japon