Golden Week activity influenced more by logistics than by economics

May 3rd, 2014 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Too late to stop now: Travel brochures for Okinawa and Hokkaido

Too late to stop now: Travel brochures for Okinawa and Hokkaido

This year’s Golden Week holiday isn’t as golden as it normally is owing to the way the national holidays that make it possible fall in relation to the days of the week. Showa no hi (the Showa Emperor’s birthday) was on a Tuesday and Constitution Day on a Saturday, so there was enough time between them for people to work, which means they didn’t get those days off. That left a measly 4-day weekend to get all the things people usually do during Golden Week done — like visit their home towns — and the truncated time period meant more highway congestion in a shorter time span, which the media treats with such predictable urgency every year that it has become something of cultural touchstone. In any case, all that gasoline wasted in 45-km traffic jams and constant stops at expressway service areas doesn’t make up economically for the money lost during the reduced holiday.

The Japan Travel Bureau declared that the Golden Week holiday started on April 25 and ended May 6, despite the fact that, for the first half of that period, schools weren’t closed the whole time so it wasn’t a bona fide “break” for families with children, regardless of whether or not dad had to work.

According to a JTB survey of 1,200 people who presumably already knew what they were going to spend over the holiday, the amount expended per person for those who planned to travel domestically was ¥34,400, or 4.2 percent less than last year. For overseas travelers the amount was ¥249,500, which represents an increase of 8.1 percent. The peak days for domestic departures were May 3-4, and for foreign departures May 2-3, thus proving that the first half of the holiday was virtually meaningless. This concentration of recreation into such a short period will likely spawn even more post-GW stories than usual on the spike in attendant divorces and job resignations.

Getting even more specific, JTB estimated 21.962 million domestic travellers over the holiday, which is 3.6 percent less than in 2013, when the number hit a record high. The estimate for overseas travellers based on reservations already made was 474,000, which is 11.4 percent less than last year. In the case of the latter, the diminished number of tourists wasn’t only due to the shortened holiday, but also to the fact that the yen’s value against other currencies isn’t as high as it was a year ago.

Nevertheless, the total number of people who are traveling is the third highest since JTB started compiling these statistics 46 years ago, so the agency has concluded that people are eager to travel, despite the consumption tax increase. As far as where people traveled, Rakuten Travel looked into its own reservation trends and said that the usual destinations, Okinawa and Hokkaido, remain popular but there was a 40.5 percent spike in the number of travellers going to Tokushima Prefecture — including a 157 percent increase among travelers in their 20s — most likely due to the 1,200th anniversary of the Ohenro Pilgrimage, which is interesting since the pilgrimage in the past was only popular among older people. Shimane Prefecture also saw a steep increase in visitors for a similar reason: people visiting iconic Izumo Shrine.

In terms of overseas destinations, because of the shorter holiday period people did not travel as far as they usually do. There were fewer trips to Europe, more to Taiwan and Hawaii. However, there were also fewer travelers going to China and South Korea, which in the past were primary GW destinations. The decline is probably due to the ongoing diplomatic tensions between those countries and Japan.

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