Japanese airport restriction upsets plans of Hong Kong travelers

Passengers queue to check-in at the international airport in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

GUANGZHOU, China — The Japanese government’s decision to limit direct passenger flights from China to four major Japanese airports has sparked a flurry of tour cancellations and booking changes in Hong Kong.

Japan announced Wednesday that only Narita, Haneda, Kansai and Chubu airports would accept flights from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macau in response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in China.

Following the move, Hong Kong’s EGL Tours Co. announced the cancellation of package tours to Hokkaido that were scheduled to depart on Wednesday and Thursday.

About 120 people were booked on the tours. Sapporo is a popular tourist destination among Hong Kong residents.

EGL Tours has been inundated with calls from customers booked on trips to Naha, Fukuoka and other Japanese cities, according to the major travel agency. Some customers wanted to change their destinations and others wanted to know when the situation will return to normal.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, almost 2.24 million Hong Kong tourists visited Japan in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, making Hong Kong the fourth-largest source of visitors to Japan, after China, South Korea and Taiwan.

The number of visitors from Hong Kong had been increasing since Japan relaxed its entry restrictions on individual travelers in October. In November, 83,000 came to Japan, more than double the number that came the previous month.

Hong Kong media outlets said that Japan’s airport restrictions could affect at least 10,000 would-be travelers just over the New Year holiday period, and 50,000 to 60,000 in January, which includes the Lunar New Year holiday period.

Similar disruptions have not occurred in mainland China, where overseas travel for tourism has been banned in principle and applications for visas and new passports for tourism purposes will not resume until Jan. 8.

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Macau Bridge, on the first day after Macau has dropped coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests for arriving travellers, in Hong Kong, December 23, 2022