Japan’s tourism industry hardest hit by Corona

TOKYO – Japan’s tourism industry was one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted travel plans and forced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The number of foreign visitors to Japan plummeted from a record 31.8 million in 2019 to just over half a million in 2022, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). The government had set a goal of 40 million visitors in 2020, hoping to capitalize on the global attention and economic benefits of hosting the Olympics.

The impact of the pandemic was felt across the country, but especially in popular tourist destinations such as Kyoto, Osaka, Hokkaido and Okinawa. Many hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions faced closure or bankruptcy due to the lack of customers. Some areas were overwhelmed by domestic tourists who took advantage of cheap travel deals and subsidies, while others remained deserted and desolate. The tourism industry also suffered from a shortage of workers, as many foreign staff left Japan or lost their jobs.

The pandemic also exposed some of the challenges and weaknesses of Japan’s tourism industry, such as its overdependence on certain markets, its lack of diversity and sustainability, and its insufficient digitalization and innovation. Some experts and stakeholders have called for a rethink of Japan’s tourism strategy, aiming for more quality over quantity, more regional balance and dispersal, more environmental and social responsibility, and more creativity and competitiveness.

In October 2022, Japan reopened its borders to travelers from all countries or regions with a valid vaccination certificate or a negative COVID-19 test result. The government also eased some of the quarantine and testing requirements for inbound travelers, hoping to revive the tourism industry and prepare for the rescheduled Olympics in 2023. However, the recovery process is expected to be slow and uncertain, as many travelers remain cautious or restricted by their own countries’ policies.

Japan’s tourism industry has suffered a lot during three years of Corona, but it also has an opportunity to transform itself for the better. By learning from the lessons of the pandemic, Japan can offer a more attractive, diverse, and sustainable travel experience to both domestic and international visitors in the post-Corona era.