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From wagyu beef to melons, Japan’s $2.2 trillion virus rescue piques struggling firms

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TOKYO (Reuters) – As the coronavirus jolts Japan, the government’s huge stimulus package has come under fire from hard-hit restaurant owners for channelling funds for items like wagyu beef, melons and tourism rather than accelerating help for firms with burning cash needs.

The restaurant industry’s struggles highlight a larger problem in Japan’s revival plan, which at $2.2 trillion is the size of Italy’s economy but is still falling short of sufficient support to an important segment – small businesses which employ 70% of the nation’s workforce.

That puts at risk Japan’s recovery from the worst postwar recession it is now facing. The $232 billion restaurant industry is crucial to boosting growth as it, together with lodging, creates about 1.3 million new jobs a year, or roughly 17% of all the new employment.

More than 190 small businesses including 30 restaurant operators have gone bust during the current health crisis.

Yet, the government’s slow response in pushing through billions of dollars stuck in paperwork is threatening the same fate for many more firms in urgent need of cash to pay salaries and rents.

In contrast, authorities have rapidly pressed ahead with plans to spend nearly $16 billion for a “go-to” campaign to promote tourism, and $1.3 billion to help politically powerful farmers and fishermen promote expensive foodstuffs such as mangoes, tunas and yellowtails. An extra $90 million has also been set aside to promote international flights – when almost all planes are grounded.

“We, as well as many others, are running out of money. If the situation is left as is, we will go under one after another. Then, no one will be left to benefit from the tourism campaign,” said Yoshikazu Moriyama, 42.

Sales at Moriyama’s six fish joints called “IROM Inc.” have tanked 90% and he’s struggling to pay rent and salaries for some 100 staff.

“What we need now is financial support to help us pay rents and compensate for business closures rather than future campaign on tourism,” Moriyama told Reuters.

Some owners say the government’s subsidy of up to $55,000 for each firm to cover rents is insufficient, and that it could afford to do more to keep businesses open and free up cashflow. Last year, rents for all of Japan’s restaurants totalled $13 billion – less than the $16 billion going into tourism promotion.

The government’s subsidy list includes items such as five-star sirloin Kobe beef steak, which costs some $37.20 for 100g, and top-quality Yubari melon that sells for more than $90 per 1.6-kg fruit.

Agriculture ministry official, Satoru Nishio, said the subsidy, which also covers expensive mangoes, strawberries and tunas, was intended “to back farmers facing a decline in inbound tourists and exports.”

The government subsidises half of the cost of buying the produce for e-commerce, take-away services and provision of school meals. For example, traders get up to $9.31 per 100g of wagyu beef and up to $22.34 per kilo of melons.

Funds tied up and in red tape

While a total of $190 billion in financing, loans, cash subsidies and other benefits have been set aside for small businesses, some analysts say struggling firms have been deprived of quick access to much-needed cash due to red tape.

“A government financial agency should provide loans that can be allotted to rents to prevent cashflow from drying up,” said Kota Matsuda, a former lawmaker who now runs a chain of 30 restaurants including 22 Hawaiian-style restaurants called Eggs ‘n Things, employing about 600 workers.

“It’s impossible to cover rents solely with subsidies,” said Matsuda, who has applied for funds but has been frustrated by the cumbersome process as he tries to meet cash needs of more than $650,000 for salaries and $372,370 for rents.

Sales at his restaurants, which reopened fully last Saturday, declined by 90-95% year-on-year in April.

IROM’s Moriyama, who applied for a couple of subsidies, said they were “far from enough” to make up for the losses.

“I can’t foresee what will happen to my business.”

Reporting and photo: Reuters

Events

Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) holds its 34th Annual General Meeting

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The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) held its 34th Annual General Meeting at Kurumba Maldives today, with a total of 100 members in attendance. 

The day’s events began with a welcome address from the Chairman of MATI, Mr. Mohamed Umar, who also presided over the session. The agenda included an address from the Secretary General, Mr. Ahmed Nazeer, the review and approval of the minutes of the 33rd AGM, the review and adoption of the Annual Report and Financial Reports for 2023, the approval of the 2024 budget, the appointment of auditors for 2024, the welcoming of new members and election of executive board members to the two vacant positions (by-election).

In the member discussion session, the following topics were covered: the Government’s aim to reach net-zero emissions by 2023 and renewable energy generation in the Tourism Industry, new terminal of Velana International Airport and developments, employment challenges, the Industrial Relations Act and trade unions, environmental conservation and the significance of creating and executing efficient management plans for protected areas like the South Ari Marine Protected Area (SAMPA).

Following the official proceedings, the Minister of Tourism Hon. Ibrahim Faisal and the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Hon. Mohamed Saeed joined the forum. The Ministers provided remarks and engaged in a Member Q&A session. This session provided members with the chance to directly engage with the Ministers and delve into crucial industry topics. The queries focused on the Economic Outlook, forthcoming development plans and  immediate challenges and issues affecting the Tourism Industry.

A video presentation was also showcased that delved into the extensive work undertaken by MATI in 2023. The video also touched upon the Tourism Industry’s performance over the past 5 years, as well as the current and projected human resource capacity of the sector.

In his closing remarks, the Secretary General highlighted the importance of collaborative efforts in addressing industry challenges and called for greater unison amongst industry stakeholders, ending with an acknowledgement of the promising start to the year in terms of arrivals.

Executive Board Members elected to the 2 vacant positions (by-election):

  1. Ibrahim Shareef, CEO and Managing Director of Maldives Airports Company Limited
  2. Renato De Olivera, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands and representative of Marriott International
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Business

Unlocking power of travel storytelling at Travel Creators Exchange 2024

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Join us for the Travel Creators Exchange 2024, taking place on February 1, 2024, at the Hotel Jen in Male’, Maldives.

This dynamic event provides a platform for networking and collaboration among Maldives-based travel creators, fostering connections, idea-sharing, and the establishment of lasting partnerships to expand opportunities and monetise content.

Our lineup of distinguished speakers includes:

  • Zihuny Rasheed, Deputy Managing Director of MMPRC, will present on “Power of Digital Storytelling: Collaborative Strategies for Destination Promotion.” MMPRC actively markets the Maldives globally, utilising a comprehensive approach that includes travel trade shows, roadshows, digital marketing, and more.
  • Amjad Thaufeeg, Commercial Director of Kuda Villingili Maldives Resort, brings over 23 years of hospitality industry experience. He will discuss “The Role of Content in Tourism Marketing,” drawing on expertise in revenue, customer service, sales & marketing, and human capital development.
  • Suresh Dissanayake, Assistant Vice President of Sales & Marketing of Heritance Aarah & Adaaran Resorts, with nearly two decades of experience, will shed light on “What does a Sales and Marketing Director Do?” He brings extensive luxury hospitality experience and a proven track record in sales, distribution, and marketing.
  • Vishal Amir Ahmed, a versatile cinematographer and content creator, will explore “Who is a Content Creator.” Currently associated with Various Arts Studio, he specialises in providing multimedia solutions to various clients.

Organised by Maldives Insider, Maldives Virtual Tour, Travel Trade Maldives, and Hotelier Maldives, this collaborative effort aims to empower Maldives-based travel content creators and elevate the Maldives as a premier destination for captivating travel storytelling.

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Acclaimed contemporary artist Ana Pušica explores perpetuality and community at Patina Maldives

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Ana Pušica Kramer, an internationally  acclaimed contemporary artist, joins Patina Maldives for an exclusive  art residency in the now infamous Fari Art Atelier. From January 22 to  February 22, 2024, Ana Pušica will grace the shores of the Fari Islands,  weaving a vibrant narrative of colour and emotion across her larger  than-life canvases. 

Her artistry transcends boundaries, melding abstraction and figuration into awe-inspiring masterpieces. Having exhibited globally, from New York to Beijing, Ana’s paintings are a physical, intuitive act rooted in movement.  Described as a “beautiful fluorescent thunderstorm,” Ana’s art explores light and colour, capturing the energy of life itself. 

The Fari Art Atelier which has previously hosted the likes of Daniel Arsham, Chris Stamp and David Nott, will be transformed into Ana’s studio and gallery showcasing her enthralling artworks—a mesmerising journey through poetry, memory, and the vibrant interplay of colour. Guests at Patina are invited to delve into Ana’s world, where each stroke reveals layers of meaning, evoking sensations of intense lightness and boundless interpretation. 

At Patina Maldives, Ana will immerse herself in a month-long residency, inviting the Patina Malidves community or guests and team to witness her artistic fervour firsthand. Guests will have the rare opportunity not only to observe her creative process but also to engage with and create art alongside this luminary.

Experience artistry at its most exclusive

Art Exhibition
Experience Ana’s captivating exploration of colour and emotion in her spellbinding artworks displayed at the Fari Atelier.

Art Workshops: Message in a Bottle
As part of a collaborative artwork, Ana invites Patina guests to participate in short workshops, actively contributing to the creation of a permanent installation at Patina Maldives.

Open Studio Session
Join Ana for an exclusive open studio session, offering guests a behind the-scenes look at her creative process.

Ana Pušica residency package
Discover a world where creativity knows no bounds as Ana Pušica, the maestro of contemporary art, transforms Patina Maldives into an immersive canvas of inspiration.

Book now to secure your experience.
For more information and reservations, please visit Patina Maldives or contact
reservations.maldives@patinahotels.com

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