Why the “unfairness” and “disparity” between those who can travel and those who cannot is widening
As a result of the declaration of a state of emergency due to the spread of the new coronavirus and the application of priority measures to prevent the spread of the virus, people were asked to refrain from traveling and were restricted from going out for non-essential reasons. Then, on September 30, the measures were lifted nationwide.
Since the beginning of October, I have heard many people say that the airplanes were fully booked. Indeed, we can see more tourists than before at airports, train stations, and tourist spots around the country. On the other hand, many staff members of hotels and car rental agencies say that they still don’t feel that there has been a sudden increase in reservations.
This raises the question of who is traveling….
According to a person familiar with the travel industry, “The people who are traveling now are booking hotels and inns through OTAs (Online Travel Agents), making their own reservations for airplanes and trains online, or driving themselves. The term “OTA” refers to an online travel agent. For example, Rakuten Travel, Jalan, Expedia, etc.
In other words, the people who are traveling now are seasoned travelers who can use OTAs to book hotels, inns, flights, etc. by personal arrangement. This means that those people are the first to enjoy the best deals on travel before the prices rise due to “revenge travel”.
On the other hand, despite the fact that tourists are starting to move, the government is still cautious in its measures and responses. The government’s “GoTo Travel” campaign has yet to be restarted. In the meantime, the “inequity” and “disparity” in travel is getting wider and wider.
ANA, JAL, and other airlines have now announced a series of flight increases for late October and November.
Flights are now full one after another, especially on weekends. In fact, there are reasons for this, and one of them is the effect of airlines “cutting back” on flights due to the new Corona. They are canceling outgoing and incoming flights and downsizing their aircraft.
Although ANA, JAL and other airlines have announced a series of flight increases from late October to November, there are still many cases where reservations are concentrated on a limited number of flights and the seats are full. Even with larger aircraft, the 100 to 200 seats are quickly filled.
During the month of September, when the date for the declaration of a state of emergency and the lifting of the priority measures to prevent the spread of the disease had not yet been decided, airlines were sending out notices of flight cancellations and flight reductions for the month of October. The government officially decided to lift the measures on the night of September 28, and the date was two days later, on the 30th. There is obviously no way to respond immediately.
Incidentally, in the UK, the roadmap to the lifting of the lockdown was presented to the public several months ago, and the various industries were preparing accordingly.
The main streets of Okinawa are still quiet, and hotel reservations are up only slightly.
When I flew to Okinawa from Kansai Airport in Osaka in mid-October, there were clearly more tourists than last month. Among them, I saw a group of students on a school trip boarding a plane to Ishigaki.
The plane was almost full, even on a weekday, and most of the passengers were tourists. There were many young people and middle-aged and older people, and it was very lively in front of the boarding gate. I also heard from someone who used Haneda Airport on the same day that “the check-in counters were overcrowded,” and there were many tourists when I arrived at Naha Airport.
However, the prices of hotels and rental cars on the main island of Okinawa have not gone up that much. When I stopped by Kokusai Street in Naha City, souvenir stores were open more than before, but the number of tourists was sparse. Instead, I noticed a lot of stores with “Closed” signs on their shutters, and places that had already been cleared. Some of the stores were still temporarily closed even after October 1st.
The government’s travel support measures have been delayed again, and are still in the demonstration experiment stage.
While the number of travelers has started to increase, the government and local governments have once again fallen behind in their measures and responses.
The GoTo Travel service, which was suspended last year, has yet to be restarted. On the other hand, travel tours for the “Vaccine and Testing Package” demonstration started on October 8 in preparation for the resumption of GoTo Travel. Thirty-eight tours are scheduled to be offered by 11 travel agencies nationwide, with the condition that participants must be vaccinated twice or submit to a negative PCR test. On October 13, the Japan Tourism Agency announced that 108 hotels and inns in 36 prefectures will also be conducting a demonstration experiment on lodging under the same conditions.
The only question that remains is, “Is this still in the demonstration experiment stage? For example, in other countries, the PCR test that I mentioned earlier is not available.
In the United Kingdom, for example, a series of demonstration tests were conducted almost simultaneously with the vaccination of the public. On May 26, 2021, 60,000 vaccinated spectators attended a rock concert without masks, and by that time, only about 35% of the population had received the required number of vaccinations. Based on the results of the demonstration experiment, along with the rate of serious illness and fatality, the next measures are being formulated and more and more rules are being established. The U.K. is gradually accepting tourists from overseas and is returning to the pre-Corona era, as quarantine is almost unnecessary if vaccination is complete and there is no obligation to wear masks.
It is still fresh in our minds that last year’s “GoTo Travel” had an overall effect on travel demand, but the use of the vaccine was skewed to a few high-end inns and hotels, causing a lot of complaints from both inside and outside the industry.
Furthermore, on October 16, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was reported to have said that he plans to come up with “intensive subsidies to encourage weekday use and focused allocation to small and medium-sized businesses” for future GoTo Travel. In particular, it makes sense for the Corona disaster to avoid weekends and holidays, when travel is concentrated, and to promote weekday travel, which is free. However, when people on the Internet heard this statement, they asked , “Why the discount only on weekdays? “It’s not fair to those who work on weekdays.
The feeling that inequity and disparity are widening can only be attributed to the fact that the government’s policies and actions are haphazard and unconvincing to most of the people. I can’t deny the feeling that we are once again on the back foot.
The information and data in this article are current as of October 23, 2021.
Text and photos (except as noted)： Aki Shikama
Travel journalist and photographer. Covers, writes about, and photographs airplanes, airports, and other travel-related topics. Has visited all prefectures in Japan and about 40 countries and regions overseas. Lecturer at Nikon College. Former reporter for a national newspaper.