Domestic cruises have resumed in Japan after a lengthy hiatus due to the pandemic, providing a boost to the travel industry and hope for the return of international cruises in the longer-term.
Two Japanese ships have completed short cruises to nearby ports in recent weeks. Both were operated under limited capacity and strict new policies for passengers and crew to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Mitsui OSK Passenger Lines’ Nippon Maru sailed from Niihama in Ehime Prefecture to Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture, where passengers disembarked to visit tourist spots, including Huis Ten Bosch theme park. The Asuka II operated by NYK Cruises, meanwhile, undertook a four-day trip from Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture to Shimizu in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The resumption follows the cruise companies’ successful implementation of new infection prevention guidelines laid out by the Japan Oceangoing Passenger Ship Association and the Ports & Harbors Association of Japan in September. These measures require passengers’ health conditions and travel history in the two weeks prior to boarding to be checked. Liners also need to ensure sufficient distancing among passengers and the use of face masks and disinfectants.
The successful cruises are expected to spark a resurgence in the domestic cruise market following the crisis that engulfed cruising in February with the widespread coronavirus outbreaks on the Diamond Princess in Yokohama. Attractions, facilities, shops and eateries in port cities are also expected to see an uptick in sales from shore excursions.
Alongside the development, the Tokyo International Cruise Terminal was opened in September. Capable of accommodating the world’s largest cruise ships weighing more than 200,000 tons, it will act as a gateway for international tourists, which totalled 2.2 million in 2019, according to Statista.
Still, even when international cruises resume, Heather Hopkins Clement, co-founder of private guide service Cruise Port Navigation, predicts autumn 2021 will be the earliest she can see a return to guiding international arrivals. Before that, she added, “passengers will most likely be required to take only the ship’s tours to maintain a travel safety ‘bubble’ until we get past the coronavirus”.