Travel demand surges as Japan opens up

Easier entry requirements and a weaker yen are drawing travelers from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia back to Japan, the outbound travel specialists in these Southeast Asian markets noted.

Since October 11, Japan has eliminated its daily arrival cap and visa sponsorship requirement, allowing individual travel and visa-free entry for foreign tourists.

Travel bookings to Japan have skyrocketed since the country lifted travel restrictions; Osaka Castle in the picture

The lifting of the daily arrival cap has provided airlines with an opportunity to offer new services and increase the frequencies of existing connections to Japan. Airlines that have responded quickly include Singapore Airlines, which is resuming services to Osaka with twice-daily flights from October 30, increasing its frequency to Fukuoka to three times a week and adding a second daily flight to Tokyo Haneda Airport; AirAsia X, which will begin weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and Sapporo from November 7 and increase them up to four times a week from December 1; and Thai AirAsia, which now flies weekly between Bangkok and Fukuoka.

Scoot will operate seasonal four weekly flights from Singapore to Sapporo from 2 November to 27 February 2023.

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Apple Vacations and Conventions Group Managing Director Koh Yock Heng, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, said the greatly improved airlift is instrumental in speeding up the restoration of inbound flights to Japan. It also enables travel companies to launch more flight and travel packages through key Southeast Asian gateways such as Bangkok and Singapore.

He sees increased demand from his Malaysian customers once the Japanese government has announced the easing of visa regulations. Visa applications were a major obstacle for Malaysians wishing to travel to Japan, as the process could take up to two weeks.

Apple’s six charter flights to Hokkaido in December are fully booked at press time, and demand for FIT and GIT travel this winter and next spring is strong.

Koh expects demand to continue picking up into 2023, helped by improvements in flight connectivity and new rounds of promotions from airlines and the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Hellen Xu, CEO of Panorama JTB Indonesia, sees a similar surge in travel interest to Japan TTG Asia that the Land of the Rising Sun typically jostle with Europe for the top destination position among pre-Covid Indonesian travelers.

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However, access to Japan remains difficult for Indonesians, mainly due to expensive air fares and limited flights.

“Before the pandemic, you could get one (flight to Japan) for 10 million rupiah ($600); now it is around 20 million rupiah. Thus, the total package price could reach around 38 million rupiah,” Xu explained.

In addition, flights between Indonesia and Japan are now mainly operated by full-service carriers.

“LCC flights have not returned,” said Edhi Sutadharma, tour director of Golden Rama Tours and Travel in Indonesia. “That’s why now only the premium segment can (afford) to travel.”

Over in Singapore, another major tourism source market for Japan, a study by consumer research and analytics firm Milieu Insight found the East Asian destination ranked first out of 2,000 respondents. 34 percent of respondents ranked Japan as the top travel destination for next year, followed by Malaysia (28 percent) and Thailand (22 percent).

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Chan Brothers Travel, one of the city-state’s strongest outbound players, has seen customers booking group tours to add free and easy days to their stay. These bookings were made before Japan’s recent border easing notice.

Jeremiah Wong, spokesman for the travel agency, said TTG Asia That interest in Japan didn’t wane even when reopening plans were still hazy in early 2022. Customers were ready to book winter tours in advance “while waiting for good news” about Japan’s reopening.

Chan Brothers Travel offers a policy – Book in Advance With Confidence – that allows customers to secure their seats on tours with a minimal deposit and have the flexibility to make changes to departure dates.

Travel agents now agree that with the rising cost of travel, not just to Japan, it’s wise to plan and book ahead.

“Planning ahead is the best way to get good prices,” Koh said. – Additional reporting by Mimi Hudoyo and Karen Yue

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