China’s move to permit the resumption of group tours to Japan, which had been banned since January 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, is cause for celebration even amid the chronic personnel shortage in travel and hospitality, says Japan’s tourism industry.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, Chinese visitors to Japan totalled 9.59 million in 2019, accounting for 30 per cent of all inbound arrivals that year and making them a vital market in the country’s tourism recovery. Moreover, their 2019 spending totalled 1.77 trillion yen (US$12 billion), equivalent to 36.8 per cent of total inbound visitor spending.
Although Chinese individuals have been permitted to travel to Japan since January, only 590,000 did so in 1H2023, equating to 13 per cent of inbound visitors. Japan’s travel trade has therefore been eagerly awaiting the return of Chinese groups, which made up 30.3 per cent of all Chinese arrivals in 2019 according to the Japan Tourism Agency.
Koji Shibata, president of ANA Holdings, the parent company of All Nippon Airways, said the return of Chinese group tours “will spur an increase in visitors to Japanese businesses and invigorate the economy”.
“Pre-Covid, we welcomed a lot of Chinese groups so we’re preparing for a rapid increase in requests,” said Mariko Iwata, a travel guide based in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
Accommodations are trying to fill staff vacancies ahead of Chinese group arrivals for the autumn leaves, a popular option for Chinese groups pre-pandemic.
A “surge” in Chinese visitors can also be expected over from October 1 to 7, or China’s “National Day Golden Week”, according to Sojern.
“We’re short-staffed so we’re a bit under pressure, but it’ll be great to see the return of Chinese groups, which were so important to our business before Covid,” shared Yasunari Saito, owner of a ryokan in Hyogo Prefecture.