BADER ZAINAL WRITES — Like many countries around the world, Japan has suffered significant negative impacts to its tourism industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, but signs of travel restrictions easing bring hope for recovery.

The beauty and mystique of Japan have long enticed visitors from international locales, with tourism soaring from 2014 forward, especially through the support and advocacy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. By 2019, over 7% of the Japanese economy derived from travel and tourism, as reported by the World Travel & Tourism Council (tourism freeze). Unfortunately, travel bans and massive closures of treasured sites and attractions starting in early 2020 due to the global pandemic took a profound toll on Japan’s hospitality and tourism industry as well as commerce.

Yet hope of recovery is on the horizon, especially with the November 5 announcement that foreign business travelers and students are now being allowed into the country, contingent on proper procedures and authorizations, which are necessarily stringent for the time being (travel-to-japan).

The next step ahead is a phased approach to opening the country to international sightseers and vacationers, likely starting with tour groups (travel-to-japan).

In the meantime, though, the domestic travel “GoTo” program has resumed, offering an array of discounts and promotions to encourage intra-country travel and tourism (tourism freeze). Additionally, nearly all major destinations, especially temples, gardens, parks, museums, and galleries throughout Japan are now open to visitors (japan-alerts). Unrestricted visitation to Japan is doubtful prior to 2022, but most sources predict a return to normalcy in time for the renowned seasonal resurgence of cherry blossoms, such as those at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple (pictured), in March.

Of course, a recovery to pre-pandemic levels of tourism may take one to two more full years (tourism freeze).  Let’s hope that the newest virus mutation, Omicron, doesn’t prolong that timeline.

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