Tourism industry finally has high hopes for Golden Week holiday

The tourism sector is ready to capitalize on the first Golden Week holiday period in three years, without any nationwide COVID-19 restrictions.

The holiday season begins on April 29 and ends in early May.

Foreign travel restrictions have also eased, and travel agencies announced in mid-April that they were accepting bookings for Hawaii tours during Golden Week after a roughly two-year hiatus.

A 35-year-old company employee who lives in Tokyo’s Toshima district was excited by the news because she wanted to visit Aloha State, where she had spent her honeymoon, again with his young children.

“I don’t feel like traveling anytime soon as I’m still concerned about the coronavirus,” she said. “But resuming touring in Hawaii has made me more eager to get there.”

The Japanese government has relaxed its advisory for travel to the United States to Level 2, which only asks people to refrain from unnecessary travel. The previous advisory recommended canceling all trips to the country.

The large travel agency JTB Corp. said the number of tour bookings during Golden Week had remained relatively low since the resumption of bookings was announced just before the start of the holiday period.

Still, JTB has received 750 bookings for tours scheduled through September, mostly from people planning to travel during the summer holidays.

However, few people seem willing to visit overseas destinations. Many prefer to stay in Japan, where the number of new COVID-19 cases has declined.

No state of emergency or pre-emergency measures were issued in Japan ahead of Golden Week.

But new ways to sightsee while taking precautions against the virus have gained traction among still wary travellers.

Kusatsu Onsen in Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture, was voted the best hot spring resort that respondents would like to visit again last year.

Kusatsu overtook Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, which had held the top spot for 15 years since surveys by Jalan Research Center, which specializes in tourism and leisure, began.

A research center official cited Kusatsu’s efforts to create an environment to prevent the virus from spreading. For example, the station has set up “Tearai no Yu” stations in the center of the area for visitors to wash their hands with hot spring water.

Users have praised the stations, saying the water is much gentler on the skin than alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

The city said it plans to install two more Tearai no Yu stations to bring the total to seven.

According to the Kusatsu onsen tourism association, 70 to 80 percent of its 122 member ryokan inns are full for Golden Week.

“They (the hostels) have made various efforts to attract tourists since the start of the pandemic,” an association official said. “They have high hopes for Golden Week this year.”

Some travel agencies offer online travel packages targeting people who remain cautious when traveling long distances or interact directly with locals in tourist destinations.

In August 2020, JTB began selling tours that use a video conferencing system to allow participants to virtually visit tourist sites both at home and abroad and chat with locals.

In other package tours, participants can get a 360-degree view of destinations by wearing virtual reality headsets.

“We want to continue to offer online tours so that customers can have more fun when they go on a trip,” said a JTB official.

(This article was written by Hiroko Saito, Kaho Matsuda, and Takaaki Fujino.)

About Walter J. Leslie

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