Japan scraps tour guide requirement for foreign tourists

New entry rules come into effect next month, but borders will not yet be fully open.

Japan has been reopened to foreign tourists for almost three months now, but you wouldn’t know it by looking around. This is because inbound leisure travelers are currently only allowed to enter the country on guided tours, which only fit the budget and preferences of a small subset of travelers. It’s a particularly incongruous style with the relatively young demographic of international travelers interested in visiting Japan, and so while international travelers can technically enter Japan, very few are.

However, things will settle down next week. At a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced two changes to Japan’s entry regulations, which will take effect on September 7. First, the daily entry cap to Japan will be increased from 20,000 people per day to 50,000. Second, the requirement for guided tours only for foreign tourists is removed..

This does not mean, however, that the borders are completely open. Foreign tourists will still have to visit Japan as part of a “package tour”. An exact set of criteria has not been announced, but ostensibly a package tour would consist of hotel accommodation, transport and a pre-determined sightseeing itinerary. The supposed benefit, from a public health perspective, is that if a package tour tourist were to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, health officials could backtrack along the itinerary to determine the possible vectors of infection and take appropriate measures to prevent the further spread of the virus.

It is currently unclear how comprehensive the unguided package itineraries will need to be. In general travel industry terms, a travel package can be as simple as airfare, round-trip airport transportation, and hotel reservations, or as detailed as entire tour schedules. the day and the predefined locations for each meal. One might also question the efficacy of requiring tourists to stick to their itinerary without an accompanying guide to confirm that they are really doing so, but rules-abiding tendencies in Japanese society mean that there are a lot of things in the country that run on honor. system.

While it’s not “Hey, the borders are open, come do what you want!” overhaul that many travelers have been waiting for, removing the requirement for a tour guide allows for cheaper tours for travellers, and also removes the bottleneck of only being able to offer as many tours as they have guides. And while package tours can sometimes still be more expensive than independent travel bookings, the ridiculously low value of the yen right now means that foreign tourists to Japan will see their money go a lot further than before the pandemic.

Sources: Yomiuri Shimbun, TBS, Bloomberg
Top Image: Pakutaso
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