Hokkaido governor Naomichi Suzuki hinted that time was against any potential resumption of the prefecture’s bid for an integrated resort license this year, but stopped short of declaring any official position during a regular press briefing last week.
Despite widespread reports in Japan that Suzuki – who previously withdrew Hokkaido’s IR bid in late 2019 – had again confirmed that position following recent delays to the national government’s IR timeline, closer examination of his comments show an absence of any firm stance on the matter.
Japan’s application period for local governments was last year delayed by nine months, from an original launch date of 4 January 2021 to the new date of 1 October 2021, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, Suzuki last week said an IR was very much in Hokkaido’s future plans, albeit possibly in a later round of licenses, telling reporters, “In the Hokkaido Tourism Country Building Plan Interim (Summary), IR was positioned as the new inbound promotion policy in a post-coronavirus world, but I believe it necessary to discuss the construction of a new IR concept unique to Hokkaido.”
Under Japan’s IR legislation, a maximum of three IR licenses will be issued by the national government under a first round of bidding, with the potential for more to be issued after seven years.
When asked if it was possible for Hokkaido to make a decision on rejoining the current IR race, Suzuki replied, “COVID-19 is spreading worldwide and we cannot predict the global economic trends. Considering a business environment surrounding operators, infections in Japan and overseas, and the state of the economy, I can’t say we have secured a sufficient period of time for consideration.”
However, when then asked directly if it should be assumed Hokkaido would not be applying for this first round of IR licenses, he simply repeated his former reply, stating, “I can’t say we have secured a sufficient period of time for consideration.”
While Suzuki’s concerns over the timeline are most likely well founded, it seems somewhat premature to rule Hokkaido out of Japan’s IR race entirely.