Despite strict requirements, Japan sees its foreign tourist attendance gradually increasing

South Korean tourists arrive at Kansai airport on July 7.

Japan News-Yomiuri/Japan News-Yomiuri

South Korean tourists arrive at Kansai airport on July 7.

Foreign tourists are increasingly accepted in Japan, starting with package tours in June. With no significant issues reported so far, hopes are high that independent travel will resume in the coming days.

But amid the “seventh wave” of coronavirus infections, it has become increasingly uncertain whether government border controls will be eased. The path to a full-fledged recovery of foreign tourism remains thorny.

“I will be visiting local festivals, including the Gion festival in Kyoto and those in the Tohoku region, for the next 45 days. I am also looking forward to enjoying hot springs,” said a 59-year-old man from Hong Kong. . Kong said happily at Kansai Airport on July 15.

The man loves Japan and used to go there four or five times a year – he said it was hard to be sidelined for two years due to the pandemic. Regarding the seventh wave of infections, he said, “Japanese people are conscientiously wearing masks, so I’m not worried.”

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On June 10, the government resumed procedures for welcoming foreign tourists for the first time in two years, but only for people coming on an organized trip and accompanied by a tourist guide. There were concerns about whether foreign tourists would comply with the obligation to constantly wear a mask.

“So far, we have not received any reports of foreign tourists testing positive. [during their trip] or caused trouble in a local community,” Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Koichi Wada said at a July 20 news conference.

Tourism-related industries have been hit hard by the sharp decline in the number of foreign tourists entering Japan and are struggling to attract them.

Japan Airlines plans to resume flights or increase the number of flights on five of its routes, including the Kansai-Honolulu route. All Nippon Airways will do the same on nine routes.

The South Korean government announced on July 19 that it would increase weekly round trips between Haneda and Seoul from eight to a maximum of 28, starting Monday.

Seibu Prince Hotels welcomed foreign tourists to its hotels in Tokyo this month. Overnight bookings from next month and beyond have also started at its hotels in resort areas, such as Karuizawa and Hakone, both near the Tokyo metropolitan area. Expectations have risen for future increases.

However, it is far from being a full-fledged revival.

Japan’s National Tourism Organization said in a July 20 report that June saw 120,400 inbound tourists, including foreign students due to study in Japan. This is only around 4% of the record high of 2.88 million recorded in June 2019, as the entry of foreigners into Japan is currently limited to 20,000 per day.

According to JTA, about 80% of all foreign tourists who came to Japan in 2019 arranged air tickets and hotel reservations on their own.

Kanako Uchimura, a researcher at Japan Research Institute, Ltd., pointed out, “As long as there are restrictions on the movement of tourists in package tours, the recovery in the number of foreign visitors will be limited.”

There have been numerous calls from the tourism industry to ease border controls, including the requirement that foreign nationals submit a negative test result for Covid-19 before departure.

“Japan is one of the only countries in the world with such strict requirements. It should respond more to global trends,” said Hiroyuki Takahashi, president of the Japan Association of Travel Agents and president of JTB Corp.

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