Japan to reopen to mass tourism from October | Economy News

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says rules restricting tourists to package tours will be scrapped from next month.

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

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

“We are a nation that has thrived on the free flow of people, goods and capital,” Kishida, who represents the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in the United States, said on Thursday.

“COVID-19 has of course disrupted all of 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.”

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

As part of a partial easing of restrictions in place since June, Japan only allows tourists on package tours and has a cap on daily arrivals, currently set at 50,000. Travelers to the country must also apply for a visa.

The severe restrictions have resulted in foreign tourists largely avoiding the country. Only about 8,000 international visitors arrived in July, compared to about 3 million in the same month in 2019.

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Tourism companies and business groups had 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 some of the highest numbers of COVID cases in the world last month, with more than 250,000 daily infections, although the country’s cumulative death toll remains among the lowest in the world.

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

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

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“The opening is timed to coincide with the normally popular winter season. However, like all Asia-Pacific countries, pre-pandemic Japan tourism was heavily influenced by the Chinese overseas market. The pace and extent of any recovery in inbound travel will depend on how quickly airlines are able to rebuild capacity.”

“There’s certainly pent-up demand for travel to Japan, but like other country openings 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 will increase, both inbound and outbound.”

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