Reopening borders to tourism

TOKYO, JAPAN – One of the world’s most popular travel destinations has reopened its borders after more than two years in near-isolation.

Late last month, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that foreign tourists shall be allowed to enter the country by way of package tours starting June 10, 2022. According to the Japan Times, visitors are required to be triple vaccinated and can only participate in scheduled tours, which will consist of a limited number of people.

Border restrictions that have been relaxed here include raising the daily cap of new arrivals to 20,000 – double the previous limit – as well as the easing of Covid-19 arrival testing and quarantine rules by categorizing countries into three groups depending on their current pandemic situation.

The Philippines is classified under “Group Blue” – referring to countries deemed to have the lowest infection rates, which exempts their nationals from requirements to test upon arrival and undergo quarantine at home.

My travel agent shared the following guidelines for tourists planning to join group tours to Japan:

· A Japanese guide must accompany the travellers throughout the entire tour led by a certified travel agency.

· Itinerary should be predetermined and all meals have to be pre-booked, while no free time is allowed during the tour.

· Visas are good only for the duration of the tour, and a confirmation from the tour operator is needed to obtain the visa. If a confirmed tourist cancels after the visa application, the visa itself will also be cancelled.

· There is no limit as to the number of participants joining the tour.

Bad news for existing Japan visa holders from such countries as the Philippines: the Japanese government suspended the validity of tourist visas – both single-entry and multiple-entry – that were issued on or before December 31, 2021. That means those who want to visit Japan again should apply for a new visa.

Transiting foreign passengers who opt to stay inside the airport during their layover are no longer required to undergo antigen or PCR testing. However, the transfer of overseas travellers between Haneda, Narita, and Kansai airports is not allowed for flight connection purposes, even if their itinerary meets the minimum connecting time required by the airlines.

Moreover, overseas travellers with a connecting flight scheduled for the following day at Narita International Airport are prohibited from leaving the terminal at any time. Located 60 kilometers east of Tokyo in Chiba prefecture, Narita is Japan’s largest and busiest airport.

Being able to visit Japan now is a welcome respite for those like me who already had game tickets to the Tokyo Olympics last year but missed it due to a sudden ban on overseas spectators. Prior to that, the organizing committee decided to postpone the quadrennial event for one year in view of the rise in Covid-19 infections. It was originally set for July 2020 and was later moved to July 2021 as mandated by the International Olympic Committee.

Before the pandemic lockdowns started, Japan was at the peak of a tourism boom in 2019 with the number of inbound visitors reaching an all-time-high that year. Today, it is among the last remaining G7 economies maintaining tight border controls. As a consequence, the Japan Tourism Agency estimated that foreign visitors spent 40 times more in 2019 compared to their spending level in 2020.

“When it comes to restarting tourism, it is imperative that we gain the understanding from people of the host areas and that they feel safe,” said Tetsuo Saito, the country’s minister of land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism. In the tradition of health versus economy, he believes it will be vital to balance infection countermeasures with economic activity as the travel sector works to recover tourism demand.

J. Albert Gamboa is a Life Member of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is the Chairman of the FINEX Media Affairs Committee and the Editor-in-Chief of FINEX Digest. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and the Manila Bulletin. #FinexPhils

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