Visitors to Japan in March at post-COVID-19 high, lured by cherry blossoms

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Visitors to Japan surged in March to their highest after the COVID-19 pandemic, official data showed on Wednesday, with overseas tourists flocking to see the nation’s famous cherry blossoms for the first time in four years as travel curbs eased.

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The number of foreign visitors for business and leisure stood at 1.82 million in March, up from 1.48 million in February, the Japan National Tourism Organisation said.

However, arrivals were still down 34 percent from March 2019, before pandemic travel curbs adopted from the following year.

Visitor numbers have risen steadily since Japan resumed visa-free travel for many countries in October. It halted pre-arrival COVID-19 tests for travelers from China on April 5 and is set to scrap all remaining infection controls from May 8.

In March 2020, as the pandemic started to widen, Japan placed travel curbs on visitors from China and South Korea, its two largest inbound markets.

Tourism to Japan all but halted for more than two years until a gradual reopening starting in June 2022.

Chinese visitors last month more than doubled to 75,700 from February, the tourism data showed. But that is still a trickle compared to the record 2019 figure of 9.5 million that accounted for a third of all visitors.

A full recovery in Chinese tourist numbers is likely to take time because of a shortage of flights and Beijing’s remaining curbs on the destinations of group tours by citizens.

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