Japan will reopen to mass tourism from October | Economic news

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said that starting next month, regulations restricting tourists from traveling on package tours will be lifted.

Japan will lift strict border restrictions linked to the pandemic from October, paving the way for mass tourism for the first time in two and a half years.

Speaking in New York, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said individual travel and visa-free entry to the country would resume from October 11 as the world’s third-largest economy tries to reconnect with the world.

“We are a nation that has prospered through the free movement of people, goods and capital,” said Kishida, who is in the United States for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Thursday.

“Covid-19 of course interrupted all these benefits, but starting October 11, Japan will relax border control measures to be on par with the US and resume visa-free travel and individual travel.”

The move marks Japan as one of the latest economies to restart large-scale tourism and travel, with only China yet to announce plans to scrap its strict border controls.

Due to a partial easing of restrictions since June, Japan only allows tourists on package tours and caps daily arrivals, currently at 50,000. Travelers to the country must also apply for a visa.

The strict restrictions have caused foreign tourists to largely avoid the country, with only around 8,000 international visitors arriving in July, compared to around 3 million in the same month of 2019.

Tourism operators and business groups urged the government to reopen borders, warning that Japan could be left behind as the rest of the world learns to live with the virus.

Despite its isolation, Japan recorded the world’s highest number of COVID cases last month, with daily infections exceeding 250,000, although the country’s cumulative death toll remains one of the lowest in the world.

Gary Bowerman, director of travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia, said Japan’s reopening would be a “key barometer” of the recovery in Asia-Pacific travel, which has lagged behind other parts of the world.

“It is a popular year-round destination, an important source of passengers for the region and an integral part of the Asia-Pacific aviation sector,” Bowerman, whose company is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“The opening is timed for the usually popular winter season. However, like all Asia Pacific countries, pre-pandemic tourism to Japan was heavily influenced by the Chinese outbound market. The pace and extent of the recovery in inbound travel will depend on how quickly airlines can restore capacity.

“There is certainly pent-up demand for travel to Japan, but as with the reopenings of other countries we’ve seen in the region, that demand may not be unleashed immediately,” Bowerman added.

“I think the next few months will be about managing expectations, but travel flows are starting to pick up, both inbound and outbound.”