Visa-free tourism has resumed in Japan since October of 2022, and all those hungry tourist looking forward to the many offerings of this beautiful country are eager to hop on the next flight to the Land of the Rising Sun. As tempting as it may be to drop everything and go, two years has changed a lot for this archipelago nation.
When are We?
As of writing this, we are about six months in to Japan’s re-opening with cherry blossom season on the horizon and, in some locations, just beginning. This is one of Japan’s most popular tourist seasons, with people travelling from across the globe to see the trees turn pink and enjoy one of the most quintessentially Japanese activities known to the Western world.
As tempting as it is to rush to the airport so as not to miss this fleeting season, keep in mind that six months is a very brief amount of time to be open after a major shut-down. The country is still recovering, and this is all-too evident in the climate of Japan’s tourism industry.
One thing to consider when coming out of the pandemic is cost. Not only has inflation caused prices to rise, but Japan is an immensely popular tourist destination which has been inaccessible since 2020. Demand is huge right now, and prices reflect this. In January, global air traffic demand grew by 67%.
1 Additionally, Fuel costs are soaring amidst the fuel and oil shortages plaguing the world.
The good news (for tourists at least) is that with the Japanese Yen at an all-time low compared to the US Dollar, prices are lower in Japan than normal. Still, there are other reasons to consider postponing your trip.
Remember when restrictions began to lift much earlier in the United States? When restaurants tried to open their doors to consumers, only to be shut down months later because they simply could not keep enough staff on retainer to maintain their business? Many mom-and-pop shops shut down, and even some larger chains were affected, closing several locations across the country due to staffing shortages.
Japan already has the issue of an aging population leading to fewer and fewer working-age adults to keep businesses going. But as the borders open, this problem is in the spotlight. A massive resurgence in travel demand after a long period of decreasing staff to cut costs means that companies foreigners rely on –Like hotels and taxis — Are scrambling to fill roles that had not been needed for so long.
To the Brim
Not only is it difficult to find staff to fill these locations, but less staff also means they are unable to fill as many rooms. Taxi companies have fewer cars on the road, so the more people there are the more difficult it will be to find a cab. Even airlines are struggling as they add more and more routes, with most flights being at capacity.
Hotels are fully booked, transportation cannot accommodate demand, and travelers are packed into full planes. The hope is that these issues will dissolve as the country readjusts to the resurgence of tourism, but at this time the demand is far outweighing the country’s capacity to meet it.
I also sell travel, with my primary niche market being Japanese and Taiwanese cultural travel. But in all honesty, I’m still green in the industry, and there’s an easy solution to this: Working with an on-site expert who can help with planning, booking, and guiding my clients along the way.
There’s just one problem: These companies are struggling just as much as the tourism industry as a whole. Many of these companies are booked out until the summer of 2023 at the earliest. Not only that, but their response times are slower than usual, meaning any plans are taking 2-3 times longer to make than average.
So unless your plan is to push your date back, odds are you (or I) will be flying solo on your trip planning. With hotels running out of rooms and the landscape of Japan’s tourism industry already notoriously difficult to navigate, this makes the task a true headache and largely unpredictable for those of us working in travel. We may be able to do a lot, but we can’t work miracles.
If Not Now, When?
My recommendation would be to plan your trip 4-6 months out at the earliest. Give yourself (and your agent, if you are working with one of us) some time to make sure your experience is everything you want it to be. The last thing you want when trying to take a vacation is to stress over your flight or hotel overbooking. Save yourself the headache, and plan ahead.
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