Travel websites, firms see spike in inquiries following Japan’s move to ease tourist restrictions

SINGAPORE — Hours after Japan’s announcement of the further reopening of its borders, travel websites and companies have reported a spike in inquiries, with one seeing a 90 percent increase in online searches.

One money changer also saw 50 percent more customers looking to buy Japanese yen while some travelers have promptly made new travel plans to Japan.

Low-cost airline Scoot meanwhile said that it will be increasing the number of flights to Japan in anticipation of greater demand.

In response to queries by TODAY, a Scoot spokesperson said that it currently operates four flights a week to Osaka as well as to Tokyo via Taipei.

“To meet the expected increase in travel demand to Japan during the year-end period, our service to Tokyo via Taipei will be increased to daily flights by the end of October 2022,” the spokesperson said.

Scoot’s Osaka service will also be increased to daily flights in November.

Travel booking website Expedia Group said that flight searches to Japan on its platform “almost doubled (+90 per cent) on the day of the announcement”.

“Search demand for hotels in Japan (also) saw an 85 percent increase on the day of the announcement, compared to the last 14-day (Sept 8-21) average,” said the company’s Asia head of public relations Lavinia Rajaram.

Travel agency EU Holidays also saw inquiries for travel to Japan going up by “20 to 30 per cent” since Thursday, said its marketing manager Mandy Chen, 30.

All of this comes after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the lifting of the restrictions on Thursday (Sept 22), allowing visa-free travel and individual tourism in Japan once again for fully-vaccinated tourists, from Oct 11 onwards.

Japan will also scrap daily arrival caps.

Prior to this, Japan had one of the strictest border measures, only opening to tourists in June, for guided tours.

In early September, it removed mandatory pre-arrival Covid-19 tests for fully-vaccinated travelers as well as raised the daily arrival cap from 20,000 to 50,000 and allowed foreign tourists on non-guided tours.

It however still required visitors to apply for a visa, which was not required for 68 countries, including Singapore, previously.

Thursday’s announcement to resume visa-free travel was welcomed by travelers.

Ms Julie Tan, 48, a housewife, told TODAY that she changed her original flight to Tokyo from Oct 7 to Oct 11 after the announcement.

She is visiting her daughter who is studying in a Tokyo university to celebrate her birthday on Oct 10.

Ms Tan also planned on going back to Japan again in February next year with the rest of her family.

“Everything is so convenient and … easy to plan…even with elderly or with younger kids…Japan is clean. So it’s very elderly friendly and is also very child friendly,” she added.

Ms Rachel Leung, 50, a housewife and part-time human resource executive, said she booked air tickets last week for a trip to Japan in December when she heard that the country could be easing travel restrictions.

This is even though the S$1,700 cost of the Singapore Airlines tickets was about S$700 more than before the pandemic.

She said she missed “the atmosphere and food” in Japan badly and used to visit the country with her family every year prior to the pandemic.

“(In) December, wintertime, we usually go and eat crabs (there),” she said.

Mr Abdul Malek Mustapa, 33, an e-commerce worker, told TODAY he was excited to explore Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto for the first time, without the restrictions, during his trip at the end of October.

“There’s this deer park I do want to go to. I think it’s part of the temple where you can go there and feed the local deer,” he said.

Apart from travel agencies, some money changers have also seen a rise in business for Japanese yen on Friday.

A sole proprietor of a money exchange at The Arcade who wanted to be known only as Mr Rahim, 45, told TODAY that he saw around 50 per cent more customers changing Japanese yen.

A spokesperson from CashChanger, a website that aggregates exchange and remittance rates, added that, compared to August, “there is an increase of 50 per cent in traffic of people looking for (the) Singapore dollar-Japanese yen exchange rate”.

Thin Margin, an online currency exchange company, also told TODAY that the number of people changing Singapore dollars for Japanese yen is “about the same” as compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Singapore dollar has strengthened this year against the yen, rising from a rate of S$1 to 85.32 yen on Jan 1 to S$1 to 102.57 yen earlier this month.

The current exchange rate is about S$1= 100.35 yen, which means Singapore travelers are still getting 17.6 per cent more in yen than the start of the year.

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