TOKYO, Japan: After Japan ended some of the world's strictest border controls and restrictions due to COVID, the number of foreign visitors to the country rose to nearly 500,000 in October, the first month it fully reopened to overseas visitors.
The number of foreign visitors, for both tourism and business, rose to 498,600 in October, more than double September's 206,500 and surging a massive 2,155 percent from the year before, the Japan National Tourism Organization said, though it was down 80 percent compared to 2019.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the government aims to attract 5 trillion yen in annual tourist spending, but that may be a bridge too far for a sector that withered during the pandemic. According to government data, hotel employment fell 22 percent between 2019 and 2021 and service workers who found other jobs may be hard to lure back.
Major gains will be difficult until Chinese tourists return. A record 9.5 million Chinese came to Japan in 2019, about one-third of all visitors, but with COVID-19 spreading in China, its culture and tourism ministry said this week that cross-border group travel was still suspended.
Other trends are more encouraging.
Inbound searches for hotels on the online bookings site Agoda shot up nearly 16-fold between January and October, mainly by customers in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, said Hiroto Ooka, the company's Japan-based head of North Asia.
"We are seeing the weak yen in a positive way," he said. "Many searches are coming in, and I think partially the yen being weak is the reason for that," he said, as quoted by Reuters.
Japan also announced that it was reopening its ports to cruise ships beginning in March 2023, with some 166 ships slated to visit next year, according to industry group Japan International Cruise Committee.
"We look forward to welcoming all our guests, on board and in port, in the future," he said.