Japan to allow non-guided group tours from September

JAPAN will allow non-guided package tours from all countries from Sept. 7 and more than double the number of people it permits to enter daily as it further rolls back some of strictest Covid-19 border controls among major economies.

The moves announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, however, do not allow for entry of individual tourists. The premier also didn’t lay out any changes for visa restrictions that place a high bar for entering the country.

Kishida said the daily entry cap would be raised to 50,000 people from the current 20,000. He also said he wanted to ease border controls to spur visits from people trying to take advantage of a weak yen — eventually loosening border restrictions to the same level as other members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations.

Kishida’s government began to allow limited numbers into the country from June, subject to strict rules such as being part of a package tour with a guide and wearing face masks. Japan had about 246,000 foreign visitors last year, a far cry from the record 31.9 million in 2019.

Participants in the non-guided package tours would still need to adhere to itineraries set by travel agencies, and individuals won’t be allowed to go off exploring on their own under the relaxed rules. The ongoing restrictions are more stringent than places such as Australia, Singapore and the UK, which impose few if any measures to entry, and are getting a head start in reviving their beleaguered tourism industries.

Airlines, hotels and retailers in Japan are all eager to regain the business they lost. The small trickle of foreigners allowed into the country last year spent 120 billion yen ($866 million). In 2019, they spent 4.8 trillion yen, or forty times more, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

Tourism-related stocks rose after Kishida’s announcement, with airlines ANA Holdings Inc. closing the morning session in Tokyo 2.9% higher and Japan Airlines Co. up 3.4%.

Last week, Kishida said that from Sept. 7 Japan would scrap a requirement to show a negative Covid-19 result to enter the country for travelers who have received three vaccine doses.

While the testing requirement is being relaxed, there’s still the issue of entry visas. Japan’s border is currently only open for people with Japanese nationality, as well as those with long-term and pre-issued tourism visas. It stopped visa waivers for applicable passports during the pandemic.

On energy policy, Kishida said at the news conference that while there’s no change in the government’s stance of reducing its dependence on nuclear power, it’s important to keep all options available to ensure the country can meet the needs of consumers. The government wants experts to give their opinions on the possible development and construction of next-generation nuclear reactors by year-end, he added. –BLOOMBERG