Japan’s inbound players are seeing a sales boost with the return of foreign-operated cruise ships to the country’s ports this month, marking the end of a three-year hiatus on docking by international ships.
Expectations are high as the number of port calls by foreign-operated cruise ships in 2023 is expected to reach 60 per cent of the number that docked in 2019, according to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
In March, 89 ships are scheduled to dock at 23 ports covering 22 prefectures including Shizuoka, which welcomed Japan’s first overseas-based cruise ship, The Amadea, since 2020 on March 1. In comparison, March 2019 saw 125 dockings at 42 ports.
Regional ports are enjoying as much demand as metropolitan ports such as Yokohama and Tokyo, which opened an international cruise terminal in 2020. Kyushu’s Kagoshima will welcome 11 dockings while Kobe will receive nine and Shikoku’s Kochi will receive eight.
Andres Zuleta, founder of Boutique Japan, a tour operator that plans post-cruise trips for international visitors, told TTG Asia that pent-up demand for Japan has been fuelling early bookings.
“Demand has been through the roof since the fall, and this spring is going to be extraordinarily busy,” he said, adding that requests include private hikes and food tours.
“We’ve received so many inquiries that we’ve already stopped taking new inquiries for autumn.”
Tohoku-based travel agency The Hidden Japan, which received many bookings, such as cycling tours, from international cruise passengers pre-pandemic, is also expecting strong recovery of the market, according to Derek Yamashita, co-founder.
“Yamagata Prefecture and the Port of Sakata viewed cruise tourism as one of its main pillars of foreign tourism prior to Covid and had massive success. Now they are making a big push again and have a lot of ships lined up (for port calls),” he said.
Heather Hopkins Clement, CEO of travel agency Cruise Port Navigation, welcomed the return but warned that tourism players can expect “growing pains” due to the Covid-induced shortage of experienced staff in Japan’s international cruise industry.