TOKYO (Reuters) - More than a dozen stores closed in Tokyo's high-end Ginza Six mall this week as the coronavirus pandemic kept big-spending foreign tourists and other luxury shoppers away from an upscale shopping district famous for brand-name boutiques.
Until the pandemic closed Japan off to most foreign visitors last year, the retail complex, which opened in 2017 with around 240 stores, was a symbol of Ginza's revival as a popular destination for tourists, especially those from China descending on stores by the busload.
Ginza Six said on Wednesday that around 15 stores, including Italian fashion house Moschino, cosmetics brands Shiseido and Shu Uemura, as well as Salon des Parfums selling Annick Goutal and other fragrance brands, have shut in the past few days.
While Japan has not seen COVID-19 outbreaks on the scale of some other major economies such as the United States and Britain, infections have been rising steadily and the government declared a second state of emergency earlier this month.
The continued travel ban, particularly the absence of Chinese tourists during next month's Lunar New Year holiday for a second year running, is also expected to deal a blow to Tokyo retailers, said Atsumi Gamou, head of Japan Tourism Agency.
"Retailers which were mainly focused on duty-free and other products popular with inbound tourists are struggling hard," he told reporters on Wednesday. "It's extremely difficult, to have an entry ban on tourists at a time when Chinese visitors would ordinarily be coming for Lunar New Year holidays."
END OF THE BOOM
The number of Chinese visitors had risen more than six-fold in the seven years to 2019. They also spent more than others, accounting for 30% of tourists but 37% of tourist spending even after a Chinese government crackdown on import and re-sale of luxury goods dampened their frantic shopping sprees for Japanese electronics and cosmetics dubbed "bakugai", or "explosive buying", by Japan's media.
Ginza Six has catered heavily to foreign visitors, with a large service centre offering tax refund processing and luggage storage in addition to a dedicated bus bay.
Global travel bans have kept foreign visitor numbers at 1-2% of year-ago levels since last April, according to data from JTB Tourism & Consulting.
Department stores in central Tokyo, heavily dependent on tourists in the past several years, have been hit particularly hard. Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings' same-store sales fell more than 30% in 2020, with sales for its Mitsukoshi Ginza store down over 50%.
Investors in Ginza Six included Japanese department store operator J.Front Retailing, trading house Sumitomo Corp and the real estate arm of U.S. private equity firm L Catterton.
(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Additional reporting by Hideto Sakai and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Kim Coghill and Alex Richardson)