Japan eases foreign tourism ban, allows package tours

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Japan on Friday relaxed its borders for foreign tourists and started accepting visa applications, but only for those on guided tour packages who are willing to follow mask-wearing and other anti-virus measures. COVID.

The first arrivals under the relaxed rules are not expected until the end of June at the earliest, although airport immigration and quarantine officials stood ready on Friday for any possible arrivals.

As the country cautiously tries to balance trade demands and infection concerns, the Japan Tourism Agency said tour groups were being accepted from 98 countries and regions, including the United States, Britain , China, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore, which are considered to have a low risk of infection.

The partial resumption of international tourism in Japan, which was halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, is being conducted under guidelines based on an experiment conducted in late May. This experience involved around 50 participants, mostly travel agency employees from Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States.

In one case, a tour for a four-member group was canceled when one of the attendees tested positive for coronavirus after arriving in Japan.

“We hope the resumption of inbound tourism will help boost the local economy,” Tetsuo Saito, the government’s minister for land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, told reporters on Friday. “We will continue to make efforts to revive tourism demand while balancing infection control measures and social and economic activities.”

According to the guidelines, participants are asked to wear face masks most of the time and to carry insurance to cover medical expenses in case they contract COVID-19. The rules do not set a limit on the number of people in a group, but tour guides must be present throughout the tour.

After facing criticism that its strict border controls were xenophobic, Japan began easing restrictions earlier this year. On June 1, it doubled its daily entry cap to 20,000 people per day, including Japanese citizens, foreign students and some business travelers.

The daily limit will include package tour participants for the time being, and officials say it will be some time before overseas visitors can come to Japan for self-guided individual tourism.

Japan-based business groups representing the Group of 7 major industrialized nations and the European Union welcomed the gradual resumption of overseas tourism to Japan, but in a joint statement called on the government to “further relax control measures to borders to create an environment where people, goods, money and digital technologies can flow freely, thereby promoting Japan’s economic growth.

They called on Japan to follow the example of other G-7 countries and resume individual tourism, eliminate testing at airports, lift the daily entry cap and resume international flights in more countries. a dozen regional airports.

Japan’s tourism business has remained dormant during the pandemic, and even though the country welcomes tourists and their spending, infection problems persist among Japanese people, especially in popular tourist destinations.

Unlike most Western countries where mask wearing has been largely phased out, most Japanese continue to wear them even in situations where they are no longer required, such as outdoors in low-traffic environments.

Japan is reporting more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, although the number in Tokyo is below 2,000.

The latest mask-wearing rules require people to wear them on public transport, in hospitals and other public establishments. People can remove their mask outside when others are not around or not speaking loudly.

It is unclear how popular the package tour option will be with foreign tourists, most of whom must apply for tourist visas which can take weeks to obtain. But the yen is trading at a 20-year low against the US dollar and weak against other major currencies, which would make trips to the high-cost country a relative bargain.

Foreign tourist arrivals fell more than 90% in 2020, from a record 31.9 million the previous year, nearly wiping out the pre-pandemic inbound tourism market of more than $30 billion.

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