The long wait to visit Japan finally came to an end on June 10, 2022, as the country allowed tourists entry for the first time in more than two years.
Local travel agents have welcomed the move to revive the battered travel and hospitality industries, but say its impact will be limited due to tight rules introduced by the Japan Tourism Agency.
As of June 10, tourists from 98 countries and regions can enter Japan provided they are part of a tour conducted by a Japan-registered travel agency and agree to abide by the government’s Covid-19 control measures, including mask-wearing. Visitors will also have to secure a visa and private health insurance before making their trip.
Organising agents can only sell packages that avoid “closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings” and are required to sign a pledge that their guests will comply to the rules.
Agents have been scrambling to prepare so they can tap pent-up demand but have expressed concern about the requirement for groups to be accompanied by a tour guide from entry until departure.
Simon Gilbert, co-owner and customer relations representative of Kyushu Journeys – which offered customised tours for extended families in Asia pre-pandemic – told TTG Asia that this limitation “might price out a lot of markets”. Most of his inquiries are now from the US.
Visitors might also be deterred because of the need for a visa, and the limited number of flights in and out of Japan at present, he added.
Derek Yamashita, creative director of The Hidden Japan, which customises tours in the northern part of the country for guests from the US, told TTG Asia that the company can accept only customers with “a high-enough budget”.
He added communicating with clients on the new rules is “very intensive”.
“Many turn away as they don’t like the idea of having such a rigid schedule… Those that accept (the rules) are usually trying to celebrate something special and need to travel this year,” he noted.
Still, Yamashita said the opening up was “important for business” and is “great progress” for the tourism sector overall.
Meanwhile, Gilbert pointed out that while the system posed some “big hurdles”, he is “incredibly optimistic” for the next two years as “there is so much pent-up demand for Japan”.