Having skipped their English lesson about not putting an infinitive verb after “go”, Japan’s bureaucrats have put together the Go To Travel campaign, an effort to revive the country’s tourism industry to counter the destructive effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’re in Japan, you’re probably well aware of the campaign (it was famously been dubbed the “Go To Hell” campaign by opponents). You, like us, probably have a whole lot of questions. Questions like: What exactly is it?, Does it apply to me?, How can I take advantage of it?, and, Should I be traveling and potentially spreading coronavirus wherever I go?

What is the Go To Travel campaign?

Go To Travel is part of the larger Go To campaign, which also includes the Go To Eat promotion to encourage consumers to visit restaurants, and the postponed Go To Event campaign to urge audiences back to events.

Under Go To Travel, the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) subsidizes 35% of the cost of package tours or hotel stays up to ¥20,000 per person per night, or up to ¥10,000 for day trips. Also, from October 1st, travelers will be issued with coupons for eating at restaurants and purchasing souvenirs at their destination, equal to 15% of the travel package price. So if you book a ¥100,000 holiday, you’ll get ¥15,000 worth of coupons from the travel operator that you booked through. For more on the local coupons, check the official site (in Japanese).

There is no restriction on the number of nights, and you can take advantage of the campaign as many times as you like. So if you book a 7-night package, you can get up to ¥140,000 off your stay.

In addition to the subsidies and coupons for travelers, the campaign covers initiatives to help tourism operators when the inbound tourism industry rebounds, such as implementing cashless payments. The JTA has approximately 1.35 trillion yen (about $US12.8 billion) to throw at Go To Travel.

There is no specific end date for the campaign, but the money is expected to be used up by some time in spring 2021. The JR East half-price shinkansen tickets promotion is not part of Go To Travel, but it is timed to coincide with the campaign.

Young woman doing big laugh with senior woman
What could possibly go wrong? | Photo by iStock.com/Satoshi-K

Who can use Go To Travel?

Go To Travel is for domestic travel within Japan and must be booked through domestic travel agents and approved sites (you can search for specific providers using the search by prefecture feature—there are thousands). It is open to all residents of Japan living in any of the 48 prefectures—including Tokyo from October 1st.

Initally, based on fears of Tokyo residents spreading COVID-19, Tokyoites were excluded from the campaign. From October 1st, all restrictions will be lifted on both Tokyo residents using Go To Travel to travel to other prefectures, and on residents of other prefectures using the campaign to visit Tokyo. Bookings for both (for travel from October 1st) were available from September 18th.

Additionally, the JTA has some mainly voluntary restrictions. The most obvious one is that if you are running a fever of 37.5 degrees celsius or over (as measured under the arm), or showing other symptoms of COVID-19, then you should stay home.

Which are the officially participating online booking sites and travel agents?

Below, we have listed some of the bigger, easier-to-use sites. For a full list, use the search tool on the official Go To Travel website.

Online booking sites:

Travel agents:

Why are some discounts on major sites reduced or unavailable?

On October 11th, it was revealed that some major online booking sites were offering reduced discounts or that they had stopped or restricted discounts.

This was due to two things: the unprecedented popularity of Go To Travel, and the way the budget was allocated among the different players. According to government sources, 700 billion yen of the 1.1 trillion yen available had already been used up by the end of September—before Tokyo was added to the program. As a result, online booking sites such as Rakuten Travel, Jalan, Ikyuu and Yahoo Travel have chewed through their allocated budget faster than anticipated. Consequently, each has introduced measures to continue offering discounts without running out of money.

Rakuten Travel is only allowing users to use the Go To Travel discount once, while Jalan, Ikyuu and Yahoo Travel have reduced the maximum per person per night discount to only 3,500 yen, significantly less than the previous maximum of 20,000 yen. Another travel agent, Tokai Tours, has stopped offering Go To Travel discounts altogether.

So what can you do? The easiest workaround is to either use a different booking site or book with your accommodation directly. Most hotels and hotel chains are also part of Go To Travel and their budget allocation is still available. There may be more government funding in future for these big sites, but nothing has been announced as yet.

Should I be traveling during a pandemic?

Apart from at the border, Japan doesn’t have any laws restricting your ability to move around in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during the state of emergency that ran from early April until late May, there were no legal restrictions on movement. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the central government both urged citizens not to travel, but you still could—and plenty did.

The government is no longer urging people to refrain from travel. The current approach is aimed at balancing the risks of widespread infection with the risk of collapse of the tourism industry that employs more than 4 million people and which supports regional economies.

The decision to travel is ultimately a balancing act for residents, too. who are having to choose between their personal wants and an appropriate level of social responsibility.

This post was published on July 28th, 2020 and updated on October 14th, 2020.

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