Foreign visitors in Japan surge after tourism reopening – Nationwide
The number of foreign visitors to Japan rose to nearly 500,000 in October, the first month it fully reopened to overseas visitors after more than two years of COVID restrictions, more than doubling the volume from September. Japan on Oct 11 ended some of the world’s strictest border controls, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is counting on tourism to recharge the economy – especially with the yen hovering near a 32-year low against the dollar.
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% from the year before, the Japan National Tourism Organization said, though it was still down 80% on 2019. This year, 1.52 million foreign visitors have arrived, a far cry from the record 31.8 million in 2019 and the government’s 2020 goal – pegged to the Summer Olympics, that were ultimately postponed – of 40 million.
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. Hotel employment fell 22% between 2019 and 2021, government data shows, and service workers who found other jobs may be hard to lure back.
Major gains will likely also be difficult until Chinese tourists return. A record 9.5 million Chinese people came to Japan in 2019, about a third of all visitors, but with COVID-19 spreading in China, its culture and tourism ministry said on Tuesday 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.
Japan sets up panel to review foreign trainee program – Nationwide
The Japanese government set up a panel of experts mainly composed of academics, municipal government chiefs and lawyers who will review the country’s problematic foreign technical intern program and propose ways to improve it. An increasing number of cases of harassment and abuse of foreign trainees has resulted in mounting criticism at home and abroad for the decades-old program, with claims that it is a cover for companies to import cheap labour rather than a program to transfer skills to developing countries.
Akihiko Tanaka, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a governmental aid agency, will chair the panel with 14 other members who will hold their first meeting by the end of the year, according to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. The members are expected to meet once a month and compile a midterm report around next spring before submitting a final report around the fall of 2023. Relevant government ministries and agencies will then revise the actual program.
At study sessions held by the justice minister earlier this year, participating experts said there was a lack of information shared to both trainees and employers prior to the start of the internships, which has led to a discrepancy between wages and skills. Among other issues discussed included trainees incurring large debts to enter Japan, working illegal hours and not receiving wages. The panel is expected to hold discussions based on such findings.
Japan gov’t domestic travel discount program to continue next year – Nationwide
The Japanese government will continue to implement its domestic tourism subsidy program through next year, tourism minister Tetsuo Saito said, although the start date will depend on COVID-19 infection rates. The National Travel Discount program, originally planned to last until Dec. 27, provides a financial subsidy of up to 11,000 yen a night per person for up to a total of seven days, but the subsidy will now be reduced to a maximum 7,000 yen per night from 2023. The year-end and New Year holidays will not be subject to the government’s tourism-boosting subsidy program for residents of Japan.
The program began on Oct. 11 in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures except Tokyo, which joined the scheme later in the month. Under the new plan, package tours that include charter bus and rail travel costs will be subsidized up to 5,000 yen, down from 8,000 yen. Those going on day trips or only paying for accommodation can obtain a subsidy of up to 3,000 yen, instead of the current 5,000 yen.