As of March 1st, the Japanese government has eased travel restrictions for people coming from the Chinese mainland. Random testing will be implemented instead of mandatory tests, and travelers from Macao and Hong Kong will no longer require a PCR-negative certificate.
In a recent exclusive interview with the Global Times, Yasuyuki Sato, aged 59 and Executive Officer and China chief for Japan Airlines (JAL), said,
“All walks of life in Japan are looking forward to Chinese tourists, especially tourism-related industries. We are always ready, and the flights can depart anytime. We hope that Japan’s aviation, railway, theme park and other facilities can be fully utilized.”
Japan wants Chinese tourists back
The Japan National Tourism Organization revealed that, in 2022, the number of Chinese tourists to Japan had dropped to 189,100, compared to 9.6 million before the pandemic in 2019. Moreover, Chinese tourists’ expenditure in Japan in 2019 was estimated to be 1.77 trillion yen, making them the highest-spending tourist segment, accounting for 36.8% of total foreign tourist expenditure in Japan.
The three-year epidemic has suspended the industry, leading to a brain drain, and it appears it will take a while to reorganize.
Currently, Japan’s single-entry and three-year multiple-entry tourist visas remain unavailable for application. Sato remarked that Chinese tourists are eager to visit Japan if flight and visa services resume to their previous levels this summer, adding,
“What I care about is whether Chinese tourists to Japan can be satisfied. Going to Japan again after three years’ suspension must be full of expectations. Can Japan respond to this expectation? Are Chinese tourists willing to visit Japan again? It is the least thing for me to see the disappointment of Chinese tourists when traveling to Japan, and this requires the joint efforts of relevant industries, including airlines,”
JAL had initially planned to increase flights to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) after 2020, but these plans were temporarily suspended due to the pandemic. Sato has emphasized that ensuring profitability is the top priority.
The outlook for JAL’s recovery in China
Currently, JAL operates 25 flights per week from Dalian, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Beijing to Tokyo – only a fifth of the pre-pandemic capacity. Air ticket prices have risen, but revenues have not yet returned to their pre-pandemic levels, although they have slightly increased.
Most of JAL’s customers now are business travelers, students, and those residing in Japan, with the number of passengers transferring from Japan to the US, Canada, and other countries gradually rising.
Sato also commented on this, saying that the tens of millions of Chinese travelers coming to Japan will help foster a better understanding of Chinese and Japanese cultures, which is evidence of the positive exchanges between the two countries. Unfortunately, these people-to-people interactions have been halted due to the past three years of strained relations.
2023 marks the 45th anniversary of the peace and friendship treaty between China and Japan. Sato believes that the resumption of people-to-people exchanges is paramount for promoting friendly relations between the two countries.