Connect resumption of cross-border travel to vitalizing economy

The government has significantly eased border control measures against the novel coronavirus. It is important to steadily link the expansion of cross-border travel to economic vitalization.

The government has lifted the entry ban on tourists from abroad traveling on their own and removed the entry cap of 50,000 people a day. It also resumed visa waivers for short-term stays for people arriving from 68 countries and regions, including the United States and South Korea.

With the relaxation of these border control measures, the only requirement for entry is to show proof of either a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative predeparture test.

Among the Group of Seven industrialized nations, only Japan had imposed a cap on the number of people entering, and many had said the border control measures were too strict.

It is understandable that the government aims to end what has been called this “isolationist” state and make efforts to restore economic and social vitality. The current weak yen may be a good opportunity to attract foreign visitors to Japan.

The number of visitors to Japan dropped sharply from 31.88 million in 2019 to 240,000 last year. As a result, many hotels and Japanese-style inns went bankrupt or out of business.

The tourism industry covers a broad range of businesses, including accommodations, eating and drinking establishments, and merchandise retailers. Resuming the acceptance of visitors to Japan should be used as an opportunity to expand employment, which could also have a ripple effect on wage increases.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has set a target of ¥5 trillion a year in travel spending by visitors to Japan. The figure is higher than the ¥4.8 trillion recorded in pre-coronavirus 2019.

Visitors from China accounted for just under 40% of all tourist consumption before the pandemic. Even now, China strictly restricts nonessential, nonurgent departures abroad. It will not be easy to recover that demand.

This year for the first time, Japan topped the World Economic Forum’s travel and tourism development index for its attractiveness as a destination. It is vital to draw foreign visitors from a wide range of countries, including from Western nations, by taking advantage of Japan’s various tourism resources, such as the richness of its nature, traditions and food culture.

In order for visitors to spend their time with peace of mind, it is essential to control the infection situation in Japan.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato said the government will request foreign visitors to Japan to wear masks. There are hardly any countries that ask people to wear masks. The government needs to make efforts to explain the situation thoroughly so as not to cause confusion.

Along with the easing of border control measures, a new nationwide travel support program has been launched to boost domestic tourism demand. It subsidizes travel expenses and distributes coupons that can be used at places such as dining establishments.

If a resurgence of coronavirus infections takes place, this program will do more harm than good. There is a need to carefully determine the infection situation and implement the program appropriately.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 12, 2022)