Japan's malls and restaurants brace for Olympics without foreigners

TOKYO (Reuters) - Shopping malls and restaurants in Japan will miss out on a business boom, as Tokyo expects to hold the Olympics without overseas spectators, dealing another blow to industries already on the ropes from the coronavirus.

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In the years leading up to the Games, developers have poured billions of dollars into shopping and dining complexes to serve an influx of foreigners, with major investments made in Tokyo’s central Shibuya district, iconic for its scramble crossing.

But the number of foreign visitors has dropped from nearly 32 million in 2019 to almost zero, causing the government to halt a spending survey that showed their consumption that year was worth $44 billion.

Now Tokyo 2020’s expected decision to block foreigners from attending the Games means a boost the service sector was counting on to recover lockdown-related losses will not materialise.

“There was so much development, with new buildings being constructed, but people aren’t coming at all,” said Ryota Himeno, an analyst at JP Morgan Securities Japan.

Up to eight million tourists visited Shibuya’s bustling clubs and cafes in 2019, and ward chief Ken Hasebe expected 10 million in 2020 before the coronavirus scuppered those plans.

Himeno says that projected growth prompted developers to spend more than $2.8 billion in the district, which is also home to some venues from the 1964 Olympics.

The most imposing of the new developments is Shibuya Scramble Square, a 230-meter glass tower that has come to dominate the skyline since opening in 2019.

Its developer, Tokyu Corp, spent $1.1 billion on projects in Shibuya in the three years through 2020.

“Our financial results are unfortunately expected to fall into the red in the current period,” said Tokyu’s Ryosuke Toura, with hotel businesses taking the biggest hit, followed by railways and retail.

Across the Shibuya station, at Masaka, a vegan restaurant inside Parco department store, which reopened after years of renovation in time for the Olympics, foreign tourists used to make up as much as half of the clientele.

Manager Yuta Namekawa is now pinning his hopes on growing awareness of vegan food among locals, thanks in part to people watching documentaries about the meat industry on Netflix.

“Part of the reason why the restaurant was opened was because of the Olympics, so it’s quite worrisome if that isn’t happening,” he said. “It can’t be helped.”

Reporting by Daniel Leussink and Mayu Yoshida; Additional reporting by Nao Fujimoto and Yuki Matsubara; Editing by Antoni Slodkowski and Gerry Doyle