BY JULIAN RYALL
TOKYO, Japan — Despite Guam preparing to reopen its borders to travelers without the need for a quarantine period, one travel expert in Japan insists the island’s travel industry cannot expect a sudden surge in arrivals from a country that has long been a key market for visitors.
Japan has its own battle with COVID, with Tokyo, Osaka and Hyogo Prefecture showing record numbers of positive cases at the end of April.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention on April 6 downgraded the travel warning for Guam from level three to level two, meaning that the risk is moderate but still counsels against non-essential journeys. Travelers are also advised to be fully vaccinated prior to flying to a level two destination.
Guam has seen its own clusters, though numbers are relatively small in comparison to Japan’s positive cases.
As of April 28, the Guam Visitors Bureau announced at a meeting of the Recovery Task Force that 80 local businesses have been approved for the Guam Safe Certification and the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Safe Travels stamp. The program was introduced on March 15 as part of Governor Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero’s plans for getting the island’s tourist industry back on its feet.
The bureau reaching out to key source markets ahead of the easing of quarantine requirements, due to go into effect on May 1. Under the new regulations, tourists and residents of Guam who are returning will no longer be obliged to quarantine
As of press time on April 30, the island was still awaiting firm confirmation of that.
And by commencing the out-reach to tourism partners in Japan and other major markets ahead of that date, GVB is hoping to encourage movement ahead of the all-important summer vacation season.
Ashley Harvey, the Tokyo-based general manager of destination management firm Aviareps Japan, is not optimistic that any destinations will be gaining traction with Japanese holidaymakers — or the government health experts, whose support is required for the nation’s borders to be once again cracked open — in the coming months.
“To my mind, there is absolutely no upside to Japan allowing tourists to go overseas again and a lot of potential downsides,” he told the Journal.
“Guam is purely a leisure destination, not a significant hub for business, so the Japanese government is under no pressure from the business lobby to permit people to travel again,” he pointed out.
“Another big concern is the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are due to open in just over 100 days,” he said. “The government here is desperate for the Games to go ahead and the last thing they want is for a sudden surge in cases that are linked to an overseas destination because they lifted the travel ban too early.
“It does not matter if that is Guam or anywhere else in the world, it would still be an absolute public relations disaster and they are not willing to take that chance.”
Tokyo’s focus to date has been on preventing the coronavirus spreading and no thought has, as yet, been put into ways in which the international tourism sector might resume.
Yet another reason why Japan is unlikely to open its borders any time in the near future is that the national government has paid out billions of yen in support for businesses, particularly in the travel sector, and they will be keen to make sure that domestic travelers stay close to home this year for their vacations.
That will mean that destinations such as Hokkaido in the far north and the resort islands of Okinawa should fare better this summer as Japanese travelers take advantage of incentives such as the government’s earlier “Go To Travel” subsidy campaign.
Unfortunately, Harvey points out, that means that people who might otherwise have taken a holiday in Guam will be choosing domestic destinations.
“It’s a nice idea that if Guam was to be 100% vaccinated that the travel industry there could reach out to other countries in a similar situation, but Japan — and its 162 million people — is nowhere near that point yet,” said Harvey, pointing out that large-scale vaccination for ordinary members of the public only started in Japan on April 12. mbj