a group of people walking on a city street: Hanamikoji Street in the Gion district of Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, western Japan, is seen bustling with visitors on Oct. 3, 2020, during the first weekend after the government's "Go To Travel" campaign subsidies were made applicable to Tokyo. (Mainichi/Ai Kawahira)

© The Mainichi
Hanamikoji Street in the Gion district of Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, western Japan, is seen bustling with visitors on Oct. 3, 2020, during the first weekend after the government’s “Go To Travel” campaign subsidies were made applicable to Tokyo. (Mainichi/Ai Kawahira)

TOKYO — Concerns that the Japanese government’s “Go To Travel” subsidy campaign that aims to spur domestic tourism could cause public confusion arose after major hotel booking sites reduced the maximum limit of the spending they’ll cover for vacationers — creating a disparity among discounts offered by participating businesses.

The budgeted funds allocated to companies operating the booking sites have been drying up due to the national government’s miscalculations regarding the state of the sites’ usage amid the coronavirus pandemic. Although such companies are offering smaller discounts, a similar move has not been spreading among major travel agencies and hotels.

An individual affiliated with a hotel booking site told the Mainichi Shimbun, “We are entering into a difficult situation where we must reduce discounted prices for the moment. It is possible that we will restore the maximum limit to its original amount right away (if additional budgeted funds are distributed).”

The total budget for the Go To Travel campaign is around 1.3 trillion yen (some $12.3 billion), and only around 73.5 billion yen (about $698 million) had been used to fund discounts as part of the subsidy program until Sept. 15. Despite this, a shortage of funds was seen in some areas, as people are increasingly using accommodation booking sites under the pandemic, and this reality was not reflected in the budgeted funds allocated to each participating business based on factors such as their sales performance from the previous fiscal year. The Japan Tourism Agency responsible for the program explained that “arrangements are being made among government agencies,” regarding the distribution of additional funds.

Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Kazuyoshi Akaba announced on Oct. 13 that the government was preparing to distribute additional funds for the Go To Travel campaign to business operators.

The three booking sites Jalan, Ikyu.com and Yahoo Travel announced that they would reduce the maximum limit of their discount offers on their respective websites. The Go To Travel administrative office commented, “There is no systemic problem when reducing the maximum limit of discounts. Other businesses besides the three companies have also made moves to reduce discount offers.”

In addition, there have also been companies that are ending sales of their discounted services altogether after using up their allotted funds. JR Tokai Tours removed travel packages for nine prefectures, including Kyoto and Nara in western Japan, from products applicable to Go To Travel discounts. The company explained, “We have run out of funds distributed by the administrative office.”

The “d travel” services provided by mobile carrier NTT Docomo Inc. have also ended sales of discounted products, and stated on their website that it is “scheduled to resume sales as soon as budgeted funds are newly distributed.”

However, similar moves have not spread among major travel agencies and hotels. A public relations representative of travel agency giant JTB Corp. said, “We will carry on with the same maximum limit of discounts, and are not thinking of placing limitations or other measures.”

Many major hotel operators allow guests to make reservations on their own websites as well as from hotel booking sites. In such cases, guests will be able to get a discount of up to 14,000 yen (about $133) if they book rooms on the hotels’ websites, but will only be able to receive a discount of up to 3,500 yen (about $33) when reserving through booking sites that have just reduced their discounts. Nonetheless, an individual connected to the hotel industry said, “Accommodation prices originally vary between hotel websites and booking sites, so we cannot give an answer on which will be cheaper unconditionally for all cases.”

(Japanese original by Tsuyoshi Kosaka and Kiyohiro Akama, Business News Department)