Japan travel restrictions stifle chances of tourism recovery on weak yen

Tourists wearing protective face masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen in Asakusa district in Tokyo, Japan March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ju-min Park/File Photo

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

TOKYO, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Japan further eased its border infection controls on Wednesday, but its insistence on visitor visas means a falling yen will not translate into a tourism boom anytime soon.

The government raised the daily cap for incoming travelers to 50,000 from 20,000 and scrapped the requirement for visitors as well as returning residents to undergo COVID-19 tests before departure, easing what has been one of the most restrictive border measures among major economies.

Travel bookings have increased since the easing was announced last month, but a real recovery will be delayed while visitors still need to obtain visas to enter the country, said Koji Masumura, director of Japan Airlines Co. (9201.T).

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

“Although the number has been increased to 50,000 people this time, I personally suspect that it will not reach that level without the participation of foreign individual travelers,” Masumura said.

The yen has depreciated rapidly in recent weeks, crossing 144 against the US dollar on Wednesday, the weakest in 24 years.

While worrying about “unilateral moves” in the currency, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that the weak currency could have benefits as border controls ease.

However, these benefits will not be realized if visitors cannot enter. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to bring Japan more in line with other Group of Seven countries, but the easing has been too slow for many companies.

Japan officially welcomed tourists in June for the first time in two years, but only around 8,000 arrived through July, compared to more than 80,000 visitors a day before the pandemic.

Tourists should always register with licensed Japanese travel agencies before applying for visas at embassies and consulates, where securing a reservation can take months, according to travel industry sources.

Masakazu Tokura, chairman of the powerful Keidanren business lobby, said on Monday that easing border measures was not enough. Foreign chambers of commerce have said the lack of visa waiver eligibility for business travelers and tourists risks sinking Japan economically.

“We are grateful for the weak yen, but foreign tourists are still required to obtain visas,” said a spokesperson for the Japan Association of Travel Agents. “We would like to see them go one step further to calm the situation.”

Before the pandemic, Japan had visa waiver agreements with nearly 70 countries, including all European Union countries, the United States and many Asian neighbors.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Rocky Swift and Maki Shiraki; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.