THE NUMBER of foreign tourists coming to Japan increased to nearly 500,000 in October 2022, the first month the country has fully reopened its borders. That figure has more than doubled compared to September.

On October 11, Japan lifted some of the world’s strictest travel restrictions and welcomed back tourist arrivals after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is counting on tourism to revive the economy, especially with the yen hovering near a 32-year low against the dollar.

The number of foreign tourists, both for tourism and business, rose to 498,600 in October. That figure more than doubled September’s 206,500 people and jumped 2,155% from the previous year, said the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

Although encouraging, the number still fell by 80% in 2019 when there was no COVID-19. This year, 1.52 million foreign visitors have arrived, far from the record 31.8 million tourists in 2019 and the government’s 2020 target of 40 million people.

Kishida said the government aims to attract 5 trillion yen in annual tourist spending, but that it may be too far for a sector withered during the pandemic. Hotel employment fell 22% between 2019 and 2021 and service workers who found other jobs may be difficult to persuade back.

Those big gains are also likely to be tough until the Chinese tourists return. Because 9.5 million Chinese came to Japan in 2019 and broke the record. That figure includes about a third of all visitors. But with COVID-19 spreading in China, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on Tuesday that cross-border group travel was still suspended.

“Even so, Japan can still be happy. Searches for Japanese hotels on online booking site Agoda jumped nearly 16 times between January and October, mainly by customers in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore,” said Hiroto Ooka, head of Japan-based North Asia Company.

Hiroto Ooka explained we see a weak yen in a positive way. A lot of searches are coming in, and I think some of the weak yen is the reason. On the other hand, Japan will reopen its ports for cruise ships from March 2023 with around 166 ships scheduled to visit next year. Japan previously closed cruise liners after Carnival Corp’s Diamond Princess became one of the first epicenters of COVID-19 in early 2020.

Domestic tourism boost
On the other hand, Japan also continues to try to boost the domestic tourism sector. The government will continue to implement the domestic tourism subsidy program until next year, said Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito on Friday, November 25, 2022.

The National Travel Discount Program, originally planned to last until December 27. The program provides financial subsidies of up to 11,000 yen (IDR1.2 million) per night per person for a total of seven days. However, subsidies will now be reduced to a maximum of 7,000 yen (US$7.8) per person per night in 2023.

Year-end and New Year holidays will not be subject to government subsidy programs to increase tourism for Japanese residents. The program started on Oct. 11 in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures except Tokyo, which joined the scheme later in the month. [sources/photo special]