Japan begins trial to allow small groups of foreign tourists

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TOKYO — The Japanese government began a trial reopening to foreign tourist groups on Tuesday, as a first step toward a planned broader relaxation of rules in June, as the country emerges from a long border closure due to COVID-19. .

The government will draw up guidelines for a safe relaunch of tourism based on the information gathered during this trial. However, with only 50 participants in the project, there are concerns that not enough data has been collected, which could delay a full reopening.

Japan has already opened up to foreigners, to some extent, with a limit of 10,000 visitors per day, but these arrivals are usually workers and students on special visas.

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of tourists arrived from the United States at Narita Airport in Tokyo. They will stay for eight days and take tours to popular destinations such as Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture and Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture.

“I want to see the difference between Hawaii and Japan on infection prevention measures in tourist spots and restaurants,” said one of the attendees, a woman who runs a travel agency in Hawaii.

Six travel agents will take a total of 15 groups during the trial period which lasts until early June. Tourists from Singapore, Thailand and Australia are also expected to participate in the project.

Each tour group will consist of up to four people, who will be accompanied by a tour guide.

Nippon Travel Agency will use cars to travel within a prefecture. Tourists will be required to wear face masks on high-speed trains.

These tourists will have their temperatures taken daily. Tour guides will also carry antigen test kits, and if an infection is suspected, arrangements will be made with local medical facilities.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the tourism industry. The number of visitors to Japan reached nearly 31.9 million in 2019, and they spent a total of 4.8 trillion yen ($37 billion), according to the National Tourism Organization of Japan and others. sources.

But the number of visitors fell to 240,000 in 2021, due to the pandemic, and they only spent 120 billion yen. The amount spent by tourists from January to March this year remained at 35.2 billion yen.

From June 1, the government will double the daily visitor limit to 20,000. For 80% of those entering the country, testing and quarantines will no longer be necessary.

However, the Japan Association of Travel Agents, airlines and other organizations are calling for the number limit to be removed entirely. The National Governors’ Association also wants the central government to establish rules on mask-wearing and other measures.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Tochigi Prefectural Governor Tomikazu Fukuda said, “We would like to strengthen our efforts to attract visitors to Japan while spreading information on how to handle the coronavirus.”

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