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Travel sector calls for Japan to reduce restrictions to boost tourism

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Japan is set to lift some of the strict travel regulations introduced during the pandemic. However, many in the tourism sector are calling for the government to lift all restrictions immediately.

The country currently has some of the strictest rules in Asia regarding travel. Tourists from over 100 different countries are currently only allowed to enter Japan in group tours. Passengers must take COVID-19 tests and meet other temporary requirements to be permitted to travel.

Citizens of countries that are usually visa-exempt for Japan now have to go through the hassle of applying for a visa before travelling.

However, after receiving very few tourists throughout the first half of summer 2022, the Japanese government has decided to take a step towards lifting travel restrictions. During June and July, only around 8,000 foreign visitors came to Japan, according to the country’s Immigration Services Agency.

In an effort to boost tourism, Japan launched the new eVisa for US and Canadian citizens. Although visa exemptions are still suspended, this move makes it quicker and easier for Americans and Canadians to authorise a trip to Japan. The visa application can be done online, without having to go all the way to an embassy. Turnaround times are also faster with this digital service.

Despite this move to boost tourism, there is increasing pressure from both inside the country and from abroad to do more.

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Japan’s economy has struggled throughout the year, although it has performed better than expected in the past few months. Many in the travel industry are calling for the government to curb all entry restrictions to encourage tourists to visit and spend money, boosting the economy.

Japan’s COVID-19 travel rules
Japan’s coronavirus travel restrictions have been some of the strictest in Asia. Although the country started to de-escalate its measures in 2021, the arrival of the Omicron variant led Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to make a U-turn and close the borders once again.

In spite of the pressure to reopen the borders to international travel throughout the first half of 2022, Kishida waited until June 1. Even then, only long-term visitors, business travellers, and students, with the appropriate visas, were allowed. Tourists can only visit Japan as part of an authorised package tour.

Other restrictions still remain.

The number of people permitted to arrive per day is capped at 20,000.

Passengers who have spent time in certain countries in the previous 14 days are barred from entering Japan.

Many visas issued pre-pandemic have been made invalid.

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Those who are allowed to travel to Japan must jump through various hoops, such as taking a COVID-19 test before setting off, completing a “Quarantine Questionnaire”, and installing the “MySOS” app on their phones.

In normal circumstances, nationals of certain countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Argentina, and all EU countries, enjoy visa exemption from Japan. This means that they only need their passport, but not a visa, to visit the eastern Asian state on holiday.

However, visa exemptions are currently suspended due to COVID-19. Visitors from these nations must now go through the lengthy visa application process at a Japanese embassy.

The opening of eVisa applications for Americans and Canadians is a small step towards reopening travel.

That said, as the situation improves and the need to boost tourism increases, it is likely that the Japanese government will continue to de-escalate measures.

Tourism in Japan 2022
Travel restrictions have had a huge impact on tourism in Japan this year. With the number of arrivals still capped at 20,000 and tourists limited to group tours, 2022 was always going to be a difficult year for the tourism industry.

However, across June and July, the country only received around 8,000 visitors. According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, only 252 foreign tourists arrived in the whole of June, while July saw 7,900 arrivals.

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This is a fraction of the numbers seen in other eastern Asian countries, such as Vietnam.

Some Japanese officials have claimed that one of the main reasons for these low numbers is that China is currently restricting its own citizens from travelling abroad. Japan is a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

It is likely that other major factors include Japan’s own policies and anti-COVID-19 measures.

Tourists from Europe and the US tend to prefer to organise their own holidays, rather than joining group tours.

With the additional requirements such as having to get COVID-19 tests and visas, there is a lot more effort involved in getting to Japan at present than pre-pandemic. It is likely that this is deterring visitors.

In spite of this, tourist numbers continue to increase. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, around 8,500 foreign visitors have applied for visas, planning to arrive before the end of August.

Source: Breaking Travel News

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