SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): On Sunday, June 12, Jane Lam booked an eight-day, seven-night package at the family-friendly theme park in central Japan with travel agency EU Holidays during the late vacation year for his family of four.
The 44-year-old housewife, who will be traveling with her husband and two children aged 14 and 16, has booked the package tour, which includes trips to Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan.
Her family last visited Japan four years ago and her children are excited to see the country again in December.
“We chose Japan because of the theme parks. We didn’t consider other countries with theme parks because we don’t want a long flight,” Lam said.
She is among those who have booked a package tour to Japan as the country reopened its borders to package tourists from June 10.
Travelers from 98 countries and regions, including Singapore, can enter Japan without quarantine regardless of their vaccination status, provided they produce a negative polymerase chain reaction test before departure.
The first tourist arrivals to Japan are expected this week due to administrative procedures. The Japanese government is accepting registrations from travel agents through a new portal, where they must enter trip participant information, including passport numbers and accommodation details, to apply for tourist visas.
These visas are a new requirement for Singapore and other passport holders, who previously could travel visa-free to Japan.
The Japan Tourism Agency said approval of such visas could take at least five working days.
With these requirements in place, several travel companies The Straits Times spoke to said their tour packages would not start until July.
Jeremiah Wong, senior director of marketing communications at Chan Brothers Travel, said he expects the “potentially earliest departure” to be after mid-July, due to travel and documentation requirements such as tourist visa application.
Likewise, Mandy Chen, marketing manager at EU Holidays, said it will be rolling out its first three-person private tour group which will depart for Tohoku on July 15, and its first 15-person tour group to Hokkaido on July 23.
The director of the travel agency, Wong Yew Hoong, added that the organized tours will start from July, as tourists could only apply for the tourist visa last week.
Similarly, Hong Thai Travel Deputy General Manager Peggie Chung said Japan visa application was also the main concern.
She added that she started group bookings from July but people seem to be “more comfortable” booking from September.
“Our first tour groups include September 27 and October 14 departures to Yamagata and Hokkaido.”
Despite the departure of tour groups for Japan from July, travel agencies have reported an increase in bookings since the May 17 announcement that the country would reopen to tourists.
Chen of EU Holidays said about 400 people have made reservations in Japan so far, compared to 200 since the travel agency held a Japan travel fair on May 21-22.
“(From) now until the end of the year, we have prepared 100 groups to visit different parts of Japan,” she said.
Wong of Chan Brothers Travel also said he continues to see demand for his Japan tours.
At the end of April, the travel company launched a new series of its popular Japan package tours, which can accommodate up to 30 people per group. In mid-May, it also launched a series of small-group tours with a maximum of nine people.
“By the end of May, over 25 bands had been formed for the Japan tours. Now that number has grown to over 50 bands,” Wong said.
However, some travelers prefer to take a wait-and-see approach before heading to Japan.
Tourists going to Japan must also purchase travel insurance, be accompanied by a tour guide “from arrival to departure”, follow a strict itinerary and respect rules such as wearing a mask most of the time or being expelled. of risk.
Agatha Lim, who hopes to visit Japan, is waiting to see if the country will further ease border restrictions.
“Going on tour means I have to follow a certain route. I prefer to go on my own and have my own plans when I travel,” the 29-year-old entrepreneur said, adding that organized trips were also expensive.
On Monday (June 13), Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific said it viewed the Japanese government’s decision to remove border measures as a “positive step”. However, he called for a complete removal of restrictions on international air travel as the industry cannot fully recover amid the restrictions.
Stefano Baronci, chief executive of ACI Asia-Pacific, said restrictions on international travel do little to prevent the spread of Covid-19 but are having a significant impact on the economy.