Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Announces Date For Return to Independent Travel

Julia Schneemann | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Niseko, Japan,
Mt Yotei as seen from Boyoso, Niseko, picture: Julia Schneemann

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced during his speech at the New York Stock Exchange (‘NYSE’) on Thursday, September 22, that the Japanese border restrictions will further ease. From October 11, Japan will revert to visa-free entry, remove all daily caps and, most importantly, permit independent travel for travelers from 68 countries, including the USA, Canada, Australia, and Europe, who were part of the pre-pandemic visa-waiver agreement.

For 2.5 years, Japan has had stringent border rules, essentially closing borders to non-residents and not seeing any tourists until June this year, when the country started to open up slowly. However, Japan imposed strict rules on tourists, requiring guided tours and capping daily numbers. Tourist numbers did not pick up as hoped, and industry experts urged the Kishida government to remove these requirements. Initially, the government eased the requirements and increased caps but did not fully remove them. There continued to be a requirement that travelers book through a travel agent. International travel numbers did not improve significantly following this easing.

The tourism industry kept pushing to remove the requirement for booking through a travel agent, as this was perceived as the largest obstacle to returning to pre-covid tourism levels. A poll by TimeOut Magazine found that having to book through an agent was holding its readers back from booking. Industry experts pointed out that tourists coming from western nations preferred to travel independently.

TimeOut Magazine confirmed in a reader poll that the requirement to book through an agent was holding people back from traveling to Japan, picture: Ray Rahardja, source: TimeOut Magazine

The announcement to revert to pre-pandemic travel requirements brings Japan back in line with travel requirements across the G7 nations. “We are a nation that has flourished through the free flow of people, goods, and capital,” Kishida stressed in his speech at the NYSE on Thursday. The Japanese Prime Minister is currently in New York to deliver an address at the UN General Assembly regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s aggression toward Taiwan.

Tourism was a cornerstone of Shinzo Abe’s economic strategy, and he hoped to attract much-needed foreign investments into Japan. Abe’s plan targeted increasing international tourists to Japan to 40 million by 2020. In 2019 Japan recorded almost 32 million international travelers, who brought a much-needed economic boost to the Japanese economy. Tourism levels have not bounced back since June and have stayed at a fraction of the initially imposed daily caps. Hopefully, this move will bring Japan closer to achieving pre-pandemic tourism numbers for 2023.

While the move comes in time for the Japanese 22/23 ski season, it may be too late to significantly impact tourism numbers to the country’s ski regions, as many tourists have already made alternate plans for their 22/23 ski holiday.

If you have not made any plans for the 22/23 season, I would highly recommend considering a ski trip to Japan. The Yen broke through the psychologically important ¥145/$ level, so why not take advantage of the 20-year-low exchange rate and explore Japan and its fantastic powder? If you need even more reasons: Niseko is part of the Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective and Hakuba is part of the Epic Pass.

Japow, Japan,
Ripping through the Japanese powder in Niseko, picture: SkiJapan.com

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