Japan is starting to open its borders to tourists for the first time in 2 years. But the move comes on a very limited basis.
The nation will allow foreign tourists into the country starting June 10, but only for those on package tours with fixed schedules and guides.
“Free and active exchange of people is the foundation of economy and society, as well as that of Asia’s development,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech last week announcing the move.
The country currently allows up to 10,000 people to enter per day, including Japanese citizens, foreign students, and some business people. That number will increase to 20,000 in June and will gradually increase as long as coronavirus infection rates remain low.
The opening of borders to packaged groups of tourists includes an exemption from testing and quarantine for those who have received three doses of the COVID vaccine.
Japan is in the middle of a trial run on the plan, currently hosting package tours of 50 people from Australia, the United States, Singapore, and Thailand. But that plan took a hit when one of the tourists tested positive.
The traveler was in Oita when the infection was confirmed Monday, according to Kyodo News. The traveler and the other members of his or her party, who have tested negative, have been isolating in a hotel since the discovery.
Officials said the news will not impact the plan to open the borders June 10.
Details about which tours will be allowed to operate and where visitors will be allowed to go are still being decided, Makoto Shimoaraiso, a Cabinet official in charge of pandemic measures, told the Associated Press.
Shimoaraiso said there was no timeline for when individual tourists not part of a package tour would be allowed in the country.
The border closures have had a dramatic impact on the tourism industry in Japan, with foreign arrivals in the country down more than 90 percent in 2020.
The travel industry generated an estimated $31 billion for the economy in 2019.
Those in the tourism industry are struggling to hang on, especially with a massive expansion that took place in anticipation of the 2020 Summer Olympics, which took place a year late and without any spectators.
Hideaki Kageyama, operations manager for hotel operator Resol Holdings, told Reuters that the Olympics were a total bust for the company, which opened four new hotels in the months prior to the original date for the Olympics and before the pandemic hit.
“You can’t pay the bills, the rent, the labor without inbound tourism,” he said.