Hong Kong’s first group tour of Japan in more than two years finally kicked off to much fanfare on Wednesday after several delays as eager travelers were undeterred by the mandatory hotel quarantine upon returning home.
This came despite Hong Kong health officials reporting 1,447 Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, the highest in two months since 1,433 cases were recorded on April 12. The daily figure included 124 imported cases. The city’s coronavirus tally now stands at 1,230,541, with 9,397 related deaths.
Ten travelers joined the seven-day trip organized by EGL Tours, which had previously pushed back the departure date from June 11 to June 15 and then to Wednesday.
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The company attributed the delays to additional time needed to register and process visas, which are necessary for visitors to enter Japan.
The Tokyo and Hokkaido travel package costs nearly HK$20,000 (US$2,564), with the price also covering a mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine upon travelers returning to Hong Kong.
Tour member Louie Yan Lok was thrilled to finally be able to visit Japan after being away for more than two years due to the coronavirus.
Arriving at Hong Kong airport at 7 a.m., Lok exchanged Hong Kong dollars for 400,000 yen (US$2,945). He said he used to visit Japan more than 10 times a year before the pandemic.
“I really missed the Japanese izakaya food [restaurants]and I can’t wait to try it,” said Lok, wearing a mask with the Japanese flag on it.
Lok said he was not too concerned about the mandatory quarantine in Hong Kong as he could work remotely.
EGL Executive Director Steve Huen Kwok-chuen greeted travelers at the airport and said he was happy that guided tours had resumed. The company held a welcome ceremony for the tour members, handing out souvenirs to them.
Urging the government to consider quarantine alternatives, Hung added, “Travellers have expressed that they would be more willing to travel if they could self-quarantine at home. The government should use its wisdom to think of ways to help the tourism industry.
Tour guide Polo Wong said he was delighted to lead a group again after a long time.
Wong said to comply with Japan’s Covid-19 measures, travelers were not allowed to remove their masks unless they were eating or taking a hot spring bath.
If travelers tested positive for the virus, local staff would accompany them to hospital for treatment, he added.
The group took off on ANA flight NH812 at 9:30 a.m. and landed at Tokyo Narita Airport around 2:30 p.m. Japan time.
Jun Miyagawa, Executive Vice President of Alliances and International Affairs at ANA, told the Job that the tour was an important first step, but said he hoped the Japanese and Hong Kong governments would both speed up the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
“Hong Kong is a very popular destination for Japanese tourists as well, and then for Hong Kongers in Japan, so we would like to resume flights as demand increases,” he said on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of Hong Kong. the airline industry body IATA in Doha.
The airline currently operates three flights a week to Hong Kong. Whether that increases “depends on border restrictions and demand recovery,” Miyagawa added.
He said Hong Kong was very important for inbound tourism to Japan and he hoped demand would return, but for now it was limited by a Japan entry cap and only group tours were allowed.
The Japanese government said earlier that tourists from nearly 100 jurisdictions would be allowed entry without quarantine on package tours from June 10.
Yuen Chun-ning, executive director of local travel agency WWPKG, said his first tour was due to depart on June 24.
He said 17 people, including customers and attendants, would fly to Japan on low-cost airline HK Express. Yuen added that they received their visas, which took about seven working days to process, on Tuesday.
Japan has long been a favored travel destination for Hong Kongers, and travel agencies were quick to roll out various products after the rules were relaxed.
Hong Kong has been placed on Japan’s “blue list”, meaning travelers are not required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, undergo testing or quarantine in the country upon arrival. But Hong Kongers are not exempt from mandatory hotel quarantine upon return and multiple coronavirus tests.
The Japanese consulate in Hong Kong said the country welcomes tourists from the city but did not have figures on the number of groups organizing tours.
According to data from Japan’s National Tourism Organization, Hong Kongers accounted for 7.1 percent of the 31.8 million registered visitors in 2019.
South Korea, meanwhile, is set to resume visa-free travel for Hong Kong residents on July 1.
Holders of Hong Kong SAR and British National Overseas passports, now disrecognized by the city government, can enter the country without a visa for short-term trips such as tourism, business meetings and family visits, according to a notice published on Monday.
But travelers will still need to apply for the Korean Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) and get approval at least 72 hours before boarding a plane or ship bound for the country.
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