Japan

Japan seeing few travellers and tour visits, a week after wary border reopening | Travel

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After more than two years, Japan, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, has reopened to tourists. However, few, if any, came.

When Japan officially reopened its borders and doubled its daily entry limit to 20,000 tourists on June 10, weary but energetic travelers with flag-guided guides were not to be found at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport. The Japan National Tourism Organization said there had been no data on any group tours for the following week, and some travel agencies had yet to start visiting.

Last month, the Japanese government unveiled a move to start allowing tourists and their spending in limited publicity. The associated restrictions — including mandatory mask wearing, temperature checks and restrictions on free movement — and relatively short notices appear to make planning and attracting tourists difficult.

“Even with June 10, we’re not sure if there will be a last-minute change,” said Andy Eastham, a spokesman for Wendy Wu Tours, a travel agency for British, Australian and New Zealand tourists. the largest operator. to Japan. “So from a business and product standpoint, we can’t do anything until we are sure that Japan is open again.”

Before the pandemic, Japan was at the peak of its tourism boom, with inbound tourists hitting record levels in 2019. Now, the island nation is one of the last remaining wealthy economies with strict border controls. While airlines, hotels and retailers are eager to regain lost business. The small number of foreigners allowed to enter Japan last year spent 120 billion yen ($943 million). In 2019, they spent 4.8 trillion yen, or 40 times more, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

Even so, the government remains cautious ahead of the July 10 upper house election, with Covid border controls still popular with voters. The island nation issued reopening guidelines on June 7, just three days before the announced reopening date. This didn’t give Wendy Wu Tours and other tour operators much time to prepare marketing campaigns to start attracting tourists.

Japan soft-launched its reopening on May 24, when it invited travel agencies and officials from abroad to participate in trials across the country. Japanese tour operators take tourists from place to place, and local guides monitor their movements and often remind them to wear masks. It is unclear what to do with those who flaunt the rules or test positive for Covid-19.

“In restarting tourism, we must gain understanding from the people of host countries and make them feel safe,” Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito told a news conference on Friday. “Balance infection countermeasures with the economy as we work to restore tourism demand. Activities are critical.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida appears to be wary of opening the floodgates too quickly and prematurely for inbound tourists as the election looms. The Cabinet’s approval rating rose to 59 percent from 55 percent the previous month, according to a June 10-12 poll by broadcaster NHK. When asked about the government’s move to double the daily restrictions on incoming tourists, 47% of respondents said the measures were appropriate, 23% said restrictions should be eased further and 20% said they shouldn’t limit.

Clearly, there is pent-up demand. The JNTO and the Japan Tourism Organization report a large number of tourist requests from overseas. The archipelago tops the World Economic Forum’s latest Tourism and Tourism Development Index rankings. A weaker yen has also made the country a more attractive and affordable destination.

It may be a while before Japan starts to see tour groups experience matcha tea ceremonies in Kyoto, climb Mount Fuji and witness Miyajima, the holy island. Hironori Katsuse, head of Trip.com Japan, said in a recent interview with Bloomberg Television that he expects Japan to fully reopen by the end of the year.

Wendy Wu Tours plans to restart tour packages on July 25, and says its “Jewel of Japan” package is one of the first to restart.

“It’s a very exciting time for us. We’ve been waiting for Japan to open up for the past few years,” Eastham said, adding that their clients don’t seem to mind the rules they have to follow when visiting Japan. “As you can imagine, we’ve had three years of demand for tourism.”

This story was published from the news agency’s feed without modification of the text. Only the title has changed.

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