Japan’s restrictive stance against leisure travellers may ease as early as this month, as the government voiced plans to welcome a limited number of group tours from overseas by end-May on a trial basis.
The decision will hinge on the state of Covid-19 infections following the peak Golden Week domestic travel season, which ran from April 29 to May 5.
The news is a ray of hope for travel and tourism providers who have been feeling the pain of lost revenue from international arrivals, which numbered a record high of 31.9 million in 2019, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.
Under the government’s new plan, all tourist arrivals will be part of package tours with fixed itineraries that must be submitted so their movements can be tracked and contact tracing can be carried out if required.
Visitors will also have to meet certain criteria, including proof of three Japan-recognised Covid-19 vaccination shots, thereby effectively keeping some countries with other vaccination programmes locked out.
However, tourism players are concerned if the reopening would benefit all of Japan since demand and supply for tours remain highest in well-known destinations such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima.
Speaking in London on May 5, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida said the relaxation of Japan’s border controls would be reviewed and carried out “in stages” alongside consultation with public health experts, with further easing in June. The goal is international arrival protocols on a par with other G7 nations, he said.
Should Covid-19 cases in Japan remain manageable, the government plans to raise the cap on the number foreign arrivals, currently 10,000 people per day, in the coming months to accommodate more international tourists.