Japan will re-open to small groups of “test tourists” on strictly managed package tours later this month.
The tourists will be the first to visit the country since it slammed its borders shut at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
They’ll have their itineraries cautiously managed, and be accompanied by tour conductors at all times.
For many, the appeal of travel lies in spontaneity – discovering hidden gems that aren’t in any guidebooks.
But after the two year ban, would you sacrifice some freedoms for the chance to see Japan?
Who can go on the “experimental” Japanese package tours?
The “demonstration tours” are only open to triple-vaccinated visitors from the United States, Australia, Thailand and Singapore.
About 50 people will be allowed in the trial phase, in around 10 to 15 small groups.
Groups will need predetermined itineraries and must be accompanied by travel agency staff. Mask wearing is still widely practised across Japan.
For those desperate to visit the Land of the Rising Sun, this trial re-opening is great news. But there is – as yet – very little information on what the trips will look like.
The government has not revealed how individuals can book a tour, or how much free movement the participants will be allowed. Participating travel agencies JTB Corp., Nippon Travel Agency Co. and Jalpack Co have not yet released itineraries.
Groups will only be allowed to visit areas where prefectural governments have agreed to accept them, meaning key Japanese travel hotspots could be excluded.
Why is Japan offering package tours?
The new experiment is a way of testing how tourism providers deal with outbreaks of Covid-19.
The government defended the program as a necessary stepping stone to open borders.
“In reopening Japan to overseas tourism, it is necessary to consider how to foster a sense of understanding and peace of mind,” Minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism Tetsuo Saito said.
After the project, the government will compile guidelines for travel agencies including measures to be taken if a tourist contract Covid.
Japan is currently recording a seven-day rolling average of around 35,000 new virus cases per day, but is cautious to let in visitors in case they import new variants.
When will Japan open up to all tourists?
Earlier this month, prime minister Fumio Kishida told a City of London event that the government would heavily relax border controls in June – but he has not yet elaborated further.
For many in the country’s beleaguered tourism industry, it can’t come soon enough.
In 2019, Japan hosted 31.9 million foreign visitors, who spent 4.81tn yen (€35.2billion). This revenue all but disappeared when the pandemic hit.
Japan’s current border entry measures allow 10,000 new arrivals per day, but the quota is made up of citizens, residents, students, and business travellers.
When the beautiful island country does re-open, tourists will flock back to its bustling cities, snow-capped mountains, and volcanic islands.