As Japan resumed visa procedures to accept foreign tourists last week, travel companies have been thrown into confusion over the lack of communication regarding entry procedures and last-minute COVID-19 guidelines.
The government’s sudden moves have generated discontent among many in the travel industry, with some domestic companies pulling out of operating tours for inbound tourists amid the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on May 26 that Japan would reopen to foreign tourists from last Friday, initially limiting eligible tourism arrivals to guided tours from 98 countries and regions deemed to have the lowest risk of infection.
The announcement triggered a flurry of inquiries from both domestic and overseas travel agencies.
“Overseas agencies had been looking for tour participants on a spur-of-the-moment basis, so they were confused after discovering visas would be required,” said the manager of a Japanese company supporting inbound tourism.
Before the pandemic, Japan offered visa-free travel for tourists from 68 countries and regions, including the United States, South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia.
But border restrictions due to COVID-19 mean that currently “everyone needs a visa,” according to the Foreign Ministry.
Many overseas travel agencies were also unaware that, in order to apply for a visa, they first needed to input the traveler’s details into Japan’s health ministry system, which did not begin operating until midnight Thursday.