Last week, authorities in Japan lifted all remaining travel restrictions on international travelers. Parts of the hospitality sector, however, have not recovered from the pandemic and the impact the restrictions had on the influx of tourists. Business has not fully picked up. At Narita Airport, roughly half of the 260 shops and restaurants remain closed.
To boost the recovery, the government began on Tuesday October 11th the National Travel Discount program which, according to the Japan Times, is a system of accommodation, food and travel subsidies worth up to ¥11,000 per person per day for use by Japan residents in any of the nation’s 47 prefectures. The program will be expanded on October 20th to include travel within Tokyo.
We are removing the limit on the number of entries to the country and open up to individual and visa-free travel.Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Prime Minister
The country is now allowing visa-free, independent tourism and remove its daily arrival cap restrictions, including the limit on arrivals. “Japan is relaxing border control measures to be on par with the United States, in addition to resuming visa-free travel and individual travel,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.
In early September, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference that the government would study how to ease Covid-19 restrictions in Japan, while “maintaining a balance between preventing the spread of infection and promoting social and economic activities.”
The country has now dropped the restrictions it imposed since the start of the pandemic and had gradually begun to relax. After almost two and a half years of strict regulations on visiting the country, this summer it allowed group travel and in September the possibility of moving around the country without a guide, although it was still limited to those who organized their stay through an agency that helped them obtain a visa.
According to Euronews, an estimate of half a million visitors have come to Japan in 2022, compared with 31.8 million in 2019. With the Summer Olympics in 2020, the government had a goal of 40 million but the pandemic derailed those plans. Prime Minister Kishida has stated that the government would like to attract 5 trillion yen (€34.5 billion) in annual tourist spending.
Hotel employment went down 22 per cent between 2019 and 2021, according to government data. Economist Takahide Kiuchi from the Nomura Research Institute has calculated that spending from overseas visitors will reach only 2.1 trillion yen (€14.9b) by 2023 and won’t exceed pre-Covid levels until 2025.
According to market research firm Teikoku Databank, more than 70% of hotels across the country were lacking workers in August, up from about 27% the year before.