After more than two years, one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world has finally reopened to tourists.
Japan has reinstated visa-free travel to many countries, which sees the end of some of the world’s strictest border controls to slow the spread of COVID-19.
However, while it may seem all well and good, shuttered shops and a shortage of hospitality workers threaten the country’s hope for a tourism boom, making the road back to normality long and rocky.
Travelers to Japan must show proof that they’ve had three COVID-19 vaccinations or return a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure.
The Damage COVID-19 Has Had on Japan’s Tourism Industry
Japan is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. With a record number of 31.8 million tourists visiting in 2019, it’s easy to see why people love the country.
Today, however, just over half a million have visited Japan so far in 2022. The Japanese government had a goal of 40 million tourists in 2020, brought in alongside the Summer Olympics. However, both were upended by the virus.
Japan is the world’s third-largest economy. But, like most countries, the Japanese yen is currently at a 32-year low against the dollar. The prime minister, Fumio Kishida, hopes the increase in tourists will boost the money being brought in.
Spending from overseas visitors is only expected to reach 2.1 trillion yen (14.2 billion GBP) by 2023. It won’t exceed pre-COVID levels until 2025, which could mean another long two years for business owners and tourism operators.
Tourists Return, But Businesses Are Still Shut
Although tourists are now allowed to return to Japan, many shops and businesses remain closed due to a shortage of workers and rising costs in the country.
Local shop owners have greeted tourists’ return with optimism and apprehension throughout Japan.
Many say that too much damage has already been done. They believe the country’s reopening has come too late, as many places have long been out of business.
While most business owners are happy with the return of tourists meaning more business, they are apprehensive as staff shortages and supply chain disruptions mean they may not cope with the quick rise in visitor numbers.
At Narita, Japan’s biggest international airport, around half of the 260 restaurants and shops remain shuttered.
Japan is Open Once Again
When the pandemic hit, Japan imposed some of the strictest travel restrictions in the world. Families and couples were forced to live apart, exchange students had to put their plans on hold, and many businesses were forced to close.
Although Japan has been open to tourists since 11 October, it will take a long time to get back to pre-COVID tourist numbers and spending.
However, most Japanese citizens and business owners are extremely happy the borders have now opened and are ready to welcome visitors again with open arms.