Japan visitors near 1 mln in November after ending COVID-19 curbs

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Visitor arrivals to Japan jumped to nearly 1 million in November, the first full month after the country scrapped COVID-19 curbs that effectively halted tourism for more than two years, data showed on Wednesday.

The number of foreign visitors, for both tourism and business, rose to 934,500 last month, almost double the October figure, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) said.

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Still, arrivals were down nearly two-thirds compared with pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

“The demand for Japan out of North America is very strong right now,” said Virgilio Russi, vice president of international sales for Air Canada, speaking to Reuters in an interview before Wednesday’s numbers were released.

Passenger demand from Canada to Japan is more than double what it was in 2019, Russi added, citing a shift away from China among business travelers, as well as tourists taking advantage of the current weakness of the yen.

“From a cost perspective, Japan is quite reasonable right now,” he said.

While the yen has climbed this week after a surprise policy change by the Bank of Japan, it remains 13 percent weaker against the US dollar this year. And while China has begun to relax its zero-COVID-19 policy, analysts don’t expect its borders to reopen till March or April.

So far this year, 2.46 million visitors have arrived in Japan, the JNTO data showed. That’s a fraction of the record 31.8 million in 2019 and the government’s original 2020 goal of 40 million, timed to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics that were eventually postponed due to the pandemic.

Japan on October 11 ended some of the world’s strictest border controls, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is counting on tourism to boost the economy.

The government aims to attract 5 trillion yen ($38 billion) in annual tourist spending. But that may be difficult to reach given Japan’s hospitality sector is suffering from a labor shortage and many Chinese citizens remain unable to travel.

A record 9.5 million Chinese people came to Japan in 2019, close to a third of all visitors.

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