Pre-pandemic highs still long way off amid China’s COVID curbs, Ukraine war
TOKYO — Japan welcomed nearly 500,000 visitors from abroad in October, more than double the figure in September, after the country fully opened its borders last month.
Figures released by the Japan National Tourism Organization — the first since the government restored visa-free entry for individual travelers on Oct. 11 — show 498,600 visitors entered the country, up from 206,500 in September.
Still, Japan has a long way to go to revive an industry that saw nearly 2.5 million arrivals in October 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travelers from around the Asia-Pacific region played a key role in last month’s post-reopening jump. South Koreans were the largest group, accounting for 25%, or 122,900. Americans followed, making up 11% or 53,200. Hong Kongers were the third-biggest group, accounting for 7% or 36,200.
Visitor numbers from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines also rose sharply, compared with September when visitors could only come as part of group tours.
Despite the signs of recovery, it remains uncertain when the tourism sector will regain full strength.
Chinese tourists, who made up roughly 30% of foreign visitors to Japan in 2019, are still subject to China’s strict zero-COVID policy and curbs on overseas travel. In October this year, the number of Chinese visitors stood at 21,500 — just 3% of the comparable figure for October 2019.
The ongoing Ukraine war is another concern. As planes now have to avoid Russian airspace, visitors from Europe face longer flights to Japan. Last month, the CEO of Japanese airline ANA Holdings told reporters that uncertainty stemming from the war was the “biggest risk” for the company and an obstacle to increasing flights to Europe.
Meanwhile, more Japanese are beginning to venture abroad, too. The number of Japanese visitors to foreign countries stood at 349,600 in October, up from 319,165 in September.
On Sept. 7, Japan stopped requiring returning nationals and residents who have been vaccinated three times or more to submit negative COVID-19 test results collected within 72 hours of departure.