Overseas travel agencies flying high over Japan’s reopening to tourists

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Staff members prepare for the reopening of the duty-free purchase processing corner at the Nagoya Sakae Mitsukoshi store in Nagoya on Tuesday.

Japan’s reopening of its doors to foreign tourists has been welcome news to travel agencies in countries with large numbers of people who travel to Japan, buoyed by the steady stream of inquiries they have received since the announcement was made.

In countries and regions that still have quarantine protocols and other measures after returning from Japan, however, many remain reluctant about making the trip to Japan.

A Japanese travel agency with numerous branches in the United States said it has been receiving many inquiries and requests from universities and other institutions in the U.S. about resuming study and research trips to Japan this summer that had been on hold for the past two years.

There has already been dozens of inquiries from individuals, the agency added. “There are so many people who have been waiting for this moment,” a person in charge said.

Hana Tour, a major travel agency in South Korea, saw a 10-fold increase in reservation requests for travel packages to Japan on June 5 compared to two weeks earlier.

The company’s website ranked Japan as the No. 1 search word on Thursday.

Hana Tour expects to see more customers in near future, given that “Japan was the most popular destination before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus,” an official said.

Expectations are likewise very high in Taiwan, but travelers are required to quarantine for one week in a hotel or at home upon returning from abroad. As Taiwan authorities currently forbid travel agencies from organizing group tours, travel to Japan remains difficult for the Taiwanese.

Taiwan, looking to achieve a balance between infection control and economic activity, plans to quickly ease its quarantine and other protocols as soon as the number of infections decreases.

“If Taiwan proceeds with easing [the measures], the airplane seats fill up right away,” said the 50-year-proprietor of a travel agency in Taipei.

In Hong Kong, where Japan has long been a popular tourist destination, major travel agency EGL Tours began selling a six-night package tour to the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which stretches through the Northern Japanese Alps mountain region in Toyama and Nagano prefectures, and other locations the day after the Japanese government announced its policy of reopening to foreign tourists on May 26.

Despite the relatively high price of about ¥500,000 at the current exchange rate, the travel agency has been receiving a steady stream of applications.

However, travelers remain hesitant because of the requirement to quarantine at a designated hotel for seven days after returning from Japan. “Until there are no restrictions on traveling independently, I have no desire to go,” a 41-year-old male company employee said.