Senagajima Umikaji Terrace in the city of Tomigusuku, Okinawa Prefecture, was bustling with local families and couples on March 7. | THE OKINAWA TIMES
Visitor traffic was lower than usual on March 7 in the American Village shopping and entertainment area in the Okinawa town of Chatan. | THE OKINAWA TIMES

Senagajima Umikaji Terrace, a Mediterranean-esque shopping mall located near the west coast of Senaga Island in Okinawa Prefecture, usually sees crowds of tourists and lines of buses and rentals cars. Starting in around mid-February this year, however, the number of tour group from overseas has sharply declined, replaced to an extent with local visitors.

The change in the customer landscape was triggered by fears over the spread of COVID-19, which has kept foreign travelers away and made domestic customers more visible.

“Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the area’s customer base has changed completely,” said an official at the tourism association for Senaga Island, which runs Umikaji Terrace in the city of Tomigusuku.

Since March 1, the number of local visitors has been growing, according to the official. On March 7, Umikaji Terrace was bustling with families and couples from Okinawa.

A married couple in their 40s, who came from the town of Yonabaru, in the south of Okinawa’s main island, enjoyed going out for the first time in days due to the virus pandemic.

The tourism association official said the operator is carefully enforcing precautions against COVID-19 for visitors.

“Although the prospects of the outbreak remains uncertain, all we can do is to manage the facility through thorough disinfection and frequent ventilation so visitors can feel relaxed and unwind,” the official said.

A similar trend was observed at the American Village shopping and entertainment area in Okinawa’s central town of Chatan. On March 7, there were more American troops and students from the prefecture than there were tourists spending time in the area. Reflecting the reduced visitor traffic, a 33-year-old owner of a ramen noodle shop said that in the past two weeks, there has been no need to ask customers to write their names on the waiting list, even during the busiest hours.

In normal times, half of the customers had been Chinese tourists, the owner said, but these days “our customers are either Japanese construction workers or Americans,” he said. “It is the first time (for us to experience the customer base change) in our three-year history of operation.”

Along with overseas travel, domestic trips are raising concerns about infection. A 32-year-old man who took a four-day trip to Okinawa from Fukuoka Prefecture with his 25-year-old wife said they went ahead with their journey because they had already booked the flights and hotels. But the man said his colleagues asked him to be cautious “not to bring back the coronavirus.”

At the Euglena Mall shopping arcade at the southernmost tip of Ishigaki Island, foreign tourists have disappeared due to the coronavirus-triggered suspension of cruise ships from other Asian countries and flights to and from Hong Kong. Instead, young Japanese people are somewhat filling the gap.

A university student couple from Tokyo, who were at the ferry terminal at the port of Ishigaki near the mall, found it unnecessary to restrict themselves excessively.

This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major newspaper in the prefecture. The original article was published March 8.

【和訳】

商業地 客層に変化
新型コロナ 県内客増える傾向

「新型コロナウイルスの流行以降、客層ががらっと変わった」という豊見城市の瀬長島ウミカジテラス。普段は大型バスやレンタカーが並び多くの観光客でにぎわうが、2月中旬ごろから外国人団体客が激減。一方で今月に入って地元客が増加傾向だといい、7日も家族連れやカップルらでにぎわっていた。

 与那原町から訪れた40代の夫婦は「ここ数日は外出を控えていた。開けている場所ならいいと思い来たが、風が気持ちいい」と久々の外出を楽しんだ。

 ウミカジテラスを運営する一般社団法人瀬長島ツーリズム協会の職員は「先行きが見えないが、訪れた人に安心して過ごしてもらうため除菌やまめな換気を徹底して淡々と営業するしかない」と話した。

 北谷町美浜のアメリカンビレッジでは、観光客よりも米兵や県内学生の姿が目立った。客の半分が中国人観光客だというラーメン店では、ここ2週間、混雑時に空席待ちの客が名前を書き入れるリストの出番がないという。男性店主(33)は「お客さんは建築作業員の日本人か米国人。開店3年で初めて」と戸惑う。

 福岡県から妻(25)と3泊4日の沖縄旅行に来た男性(32)は「飛行機もホテルも予約済みだったからそのまま来たけど、会社の人に『コロナもらってこないでよ』とくぎを刺された」と渋い表情で話した。

 いつもは多くの客であふれる石垣市内の商店街ユーグレナモールでは、アジアからのクルーズ船や香港便運休の影響で外国人客がいなくなり、大学生とみられる若者の姿が目立った。

 竹富島に向かうため、商店街近くの石垣港離島ターミナルにいた東京の大学生カップルは「感染は怖いが沖縄は大丈夫かなと思った。島は人が密集しているわけでもない」と過度な自粛ムードとは距離を置き、旅を楽しんでいた。

(写図説明)外国人観光客が減り地元客が増えたという瀬長島ウミカジテラス=7日、豊見城市瀬長
(写図説明)人通りが普段より少ないアメリカンビレッジ=7日、北谷町美浜