Japan is becoming more of an outlier in a region where border controls are being lifted, and quarantine-free travel has been revived.
Andrew William anticipated a difficult few months when Japan imposed a total ban on inbound tourists in April 2020.
As revenue from his Kyoto tour company and Design began to dwindle, William turned to virtual experiences to keep his company solvent.
He could never have predicted that he would still be battling after more than two years.
The firm named Design is based closely on inbound tourism. Before the pandemic, I used to lead 20 to 35 strolling excursions a month. Since March 2020, I even have led six strolling excursions, William, whose enterprise specializes in excursions to Japanese gardens and off-the-beaten-course attractions, informed the reporters.
Starting a business in Japan is a big goal of my life, and I am not willing to give up so easily, he said. It was extremely difficult and caused a lot of stress.
Japan, which remained largely isolated from the rest of the world, became an outlier in a region that has loosened border restrictions and reintroduced quarantine-free travel.
Although Tokyo allowed business people, international students, and academics to return last month, tourists are still banned, making Japan a rare teammate with China and Taiwan. Most newcomers must also go through a three-day quarantine period.
The pandemic recovery has hardly begun for firms that rely on tourism because of border constraints.
Deneb, a luxury travel design business based in Japan, co-founders Satoko Nagahara, Ludovic Lainé, and Melody Sin stated that the industry, while resilient, would take several years to recover.
“We just conducted a survey of luxury hotels around Japan, asking numerous questions on the epidemic,” Nagahara, Lainé, and Sin told the reporters through an email. “Hoteliers concur that, assuming no big bad events related to the pandemic, it will take around two years for the industry to grow again owing to overseas visitations,” says one hotelier.
The previous two years were tough for Anne Kyle, the CEO and a founder of Arigato Travel, according to the reporters. But moving to online tours has allowed her to keep some revenue flow coming.
“But, to be honest, we’re on borrowed money,” Kyle admitted. “We’re on the edge of being reliant on personal funds to keep the business afloat.”
The tourism industry is boasting.
Tokyo’s first tourist ban was enacted in reaction to the first wave of COVID-19 infections in early 2020, at a time when the Japanese tourism sector was expanding.
Following the relaxation of visa requirements under then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan had an increase in inbound tourism for eight years in a row, with 32 million foreign visitors arriving in 2019.
The Tokyo Olympics were originally to take place in 2020, with 40 million people expected, and the government established a target of 60 million visitors by 2030. Over the period, international tourists’ economic contribution rose year after year, with 4.81 trillion yen ($3.8 billion) spent in 2019.
Tokyo-based economist Jesper Koll told reporters: “In terms of a purely positive effect on domestic consumption, tourism is not an exaggeration. “Moreover, the border closures disproportionately impacted regional economies, where the inbound surge had a far more disproportionately favourable influence.”
In the travel world, there is hope that the borders can reopen once most of the population has been vaccinated. Eighty per cent have received at least two shots – the increase in the Omicron variant subsides, and border control gender has been abolished in neighbouring countries such as Korea and Malaysia.
The following 106 nations will not be subject to rejection of permission to visit Japan beginning at 0:00 am (JST) on April 8, 2022, according to a post on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website earlier this month.
However, those hopes were quickly dashed when the government confirmed that the changes only applied to returning residents and family members with extenuating circumstances, students enrolled in Japan-based study programs, and work permit holders, who will all be subjected to reduced self-isolation periods if they meet the required criteria.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that “no timetable” for fully reopening the crossings has been set. His ruling Liberal Democratic Party, on the other hand, has addressed the possibility of “relaxing border processes.”
A steady rise in COVID-19 cases, as well as the recent detection of the Omicron XE hybrid form in a traveller arriving at Narita Airport from the United States, is challenging reopening prospects for Japan.
In the past, Tokyo has reacted to increased infection rates and novel variations by imposing stricter restrictions, prompting concerns that tourist-friendly border rules are still a long way off. Nearly 90% of respondents in a December poll conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest daily newspaper, stated they support strict border controls.
Some commentators have drawn parallels between the epidemic years and Japan’s isolation from the rest of the world during the Sakoku era, which lasted more than 200 years.
Japan, on the other hand, has its own story, according to Koll.
“And that is not just a warning; it’s a story of national distrust,” Koll added, referring to Japan’s inability to make its vaccine. “A more effective and sensible global communications strategy has been hampered by this narrative of overdependence on global rather than local innovation.”
Kumi Kato, a tourism professor at Wakayama and Musashino universities, acknowledged that the communication surrounding Japan’s border procedures was chaotic but said that such issues are not unique to Japan. According to Kato, the pandemic gave the opportunity to Japan to rethink its unsustainable tourism policies.
Japan can take advantage of the COVID downturn to boost tourism factors, Kato told reporters. Japan was not prepared for such a large number of tourists. I am hopeful that the current approach of focusing on sustainability rather than increasing inbounds will be beneficial and show results once the border opens up more freely.”
The question arises of when it will happen, for small business owners like Kyle, as he also administers the Japan Foreign Tourism Professionals private Facebook group, which feels almost as uncertain as ever.
“A lot of individuals in the group were enthusiastic at first, but they’re starting to grow impatient now,” Kyle added. “It’s difficult to anticipate because the data used by government officials is unclear.”
Edited by Prakriti Arora