Japan gears up for tourism recovery amid Lunar New Year upsurge

 Friday, January 27, 2023 


Japan’s tourism industry looks to be on a path to recovery amid the Lunar New Year upsurge, as the government moves toward downgrading the COVID-19 status and neighboring countries like China reopen to the world.

Earlier this week, in Tokyo’s upmarket Ginza district, over 70 foreign tourists were getting off tour buses after a day trip around the capital’s most famous sightseeing spots.

This year marked the first time since the onset of COVID-19 that Asian tourists were able to travel overseas during the, which began on Jan. 22.

“I came here to shop, eat, and do some sightseeing,” Chiou De-Yu, a 30-year old Taiwanese, told Nikkei Asia. With a shopping budget of around 200,000 yen ($1,540) for his six-day trip, his itinerary included visits to Mt. Fuji, Tokyo Disney Resort and other popular destinations. “To me, Japan is an attractive place. I’m glad I’m back,” he said.

Similarly, Lu Meng Ya from Taiwan said he planned to spare around 240,000 yen just for shopping. His list includes cosmetics, painkillers and anti-itch cream.

Due to time constraints, he cannot visit all the places he wanst this time. He plans to come back to Japan again, he said.

According to online travel agency KKday, which organized the bus tour, as of early January the company’s Japan tour sales for the Lunar New Year season were already up 200% from the same period in 2019, driven by strong demand from tourists across Asia, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore.

Japanese airlines are also seeing brisk demand from certain Asian countries. A representative for Japan Airlines said that flights to Japan from Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea were almost fully booked during this Lunar New Year. ANA Holdings also said their flights to Japan from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam during the holiday season reached 90% of 2019 levels.

The robust demand comes amid moves from the Japanese government to speed up the country’s economic recovery. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is aiming to reclassify COVID-19 this spring, putting it in the same category as seasonal flu, as well as scrap the government’s indoor mask recommendation.

His administration last year gave the green light to resume visa-free entry for individual travellers.

Tourist numbers have already jumped pretty high. In December, 1.37 million visitors entered Japan, 113 times more compared to the previous year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).

Businesses in the country are gearing up to cater to the long-awaited recovery.

Next week, Haneda International Airport will open Haneda Airport Garden, a gateway for international travellers to enter Japan.

The new facility, which includes hotels, restaurants, and retail stores, had originally been scheduled to open in April 2020. After a three year postponement, the attraction is finally welcoming travellers.

The facility’s more than 70 tenants have high hopes. One of them, Fukui-born umbrella maker Zenza, wants to lure wealthy Asian customers.

The brand sells traditional and luxury umbrellas that cost anywhere from around 38,000 yen or more, and is popular with tourists from Hong Kong, Malaysia, China and Singapore.

Sales manager Takashi Minamiya told a news media hope for a further recovery in overall international tourists, including from China later this year.

Despite such encouraging signs, Asia continues to lag behind other regions in terms of post-COVID tourism recovery.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts that international tourist arrivals in 2023 could reach around 80-95% of pre-pandemic levels thanks to a strong recovery in Europe and the Middle East — last year the two regions already saw arrivals return to around 80% of 2019 levels.

Meanwhile, in 2022 the Asia Pacific region reached only 23%, with COVID-related border restrictions in some countries only being scrapped in recent months.

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