Overnight travels or one-day trips?
Despite travel activities with overnight stays accounting for more than half of tourism expenditures in Japan, they are generally limited to consecutive public holidays. Within a working culture, in which employees are expected to devote their energy to the company, long absences for leisure reasons are uncommon. Consequently, major travel seasons are often limited to the Bon Festival in August and the New Year’s holiday for family visits, as well as the Golden Week holiday in May. During this time, a large number of people undertake week-long leisure travels with their families.
In contrast, day trips are a popular leisure activity taken during weekends. The highly developed public transportation network in Japan offers ideal alternatives to personal vehicles, enabling young people without a driver’s license to undertake long-distance travels. Precisely timed schedules, coupled with a broad range of rail, water, and air transport modes make visits to tourist attractions in neighboring prefectures a fast excursion which requires only several hours.
The limit of growth
Despite the major role domestic travels play in sustaining the tourism sector in Japan, possibilities of economic growth are limited. The number of domestic travelers stagnated in the last decade, with the occurrence of natural disasters and periodic tax hikes further diminishing travel demand. To cushion fluctuations in domestic travel demand, the Japanese government perceived inbound tourism as an opportunity for the industry to stabilize and prosper even further.
The successful promotion of Japan as a tourist destination overseas is reflected in the interest in Japanese culture encouraging a visit to the archipelago, and the steadily rising tourism expenditure of international visitors. While large metropolitan areas remain tourist hotspots with its modernized infrastructure, small rural areas advertise themselves as preserving and promoting the traditional customs away from the vibrant city life.
Widening gap following COVID-19
The travel industry was heavily impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in 2020, with accommodation businesses and related service industries reporting a negative impact of the global pandemic on business operations. Following the declaration of state emergency in April, borders were closed to foreign residents, while citizens were requested to avoid unnecessary travels and remain at home.
To revitalize the worn-down tourism industry, the Japanese government announced the ‘Go to Travel’ campaign directed at domestic travelers after lifting the state of emergency in May. Through subsidization of travel expenses, the campaign was expected to stimulate travel demand and support related businesses. With borders remaining closed to inbound travelers, domestic travels were considered the key drivers to restoring the Japanese tourism industry, widening the gap between domestic and international travels once again.