Japan's businesses brace for long-awaited return of tourists

TOKYO, Sep 28 (straitstimes.com) - Japan's tourism industry is opening for business again. From the streets of Kyoto to the slopes of Hokkaido, retailers, restaurants and hotels are seeking to recover the revenue they lost during the pandemic with the return of overseas visitors starting Oct 11.

One of the last remaining rich economies with tight border controls, and with the yen at quarter-century lows against the dollar, the archipelago is now an affordable and attractive destination for overseas visitors.

That's welcome relief after more than 4,000 enterprises folded after retailers adopted curbs in early 2020 on operating hours and the country closed its borders to tourists.

"When Covid hit, it was hard for us," said Kenya Katayama, mayor of Niseko, a ski resort on the northern island of Hokkaido that's popular with skiers and snowboarders. "So far, winter reservations are doing well."

Spending by inbound travellers totalled 4.8 trillion yen (S$47.7 billion) in 2019 before lockdowns began, according to Nomura Research Institute. The question now is how much of that will come back, and how soon.

The archipelago topped the World Economic Forum's Travel & Tourism Development Index earlier this year; Japanese airlines are already ramping up international flights.

Even so, there's still some uncertainty. A limited reopening in June for group tours failed to attract any meaningful traffic. That's making it difficult for tourist-facing businesses to gauge the level of demand. ...continue reading