The following is a letter to the editor from the Head of Operations of Inside Travel Group, the company behind InsideJapan Tours, a tour operator in the U.K., U.S. and Australia.
The pandemic situation has been a huge challenge for Japan's entire inbound tourism industry, including ourselves.
We started our company 21 years ago. Pre-pandemic, the company was sending around 14,000 passengers per year to Japan from our three sales markets, and employed 200 staff including 62 people in our operations office in Nagoya. Our turnover was 50 million pounds (about $62.83 million) per year, of which around 30 million pounds (about $37.69 million) was spent directly in Japan on services such as hotels, transport, and excursions.
Our approach has been to make sure that we are ready for the bounce back after the pandemic has passed and borders are reopened. Although we have made cost savings (including reducing our number of staff by 50%) we have kept the business operationally ready to look after customers traveling to Japan.
Our customers are determined to travel to Japan, and there is a huge appetite in our market for travel to Japan. Japan is consistently among the top three "bucket list" countries in consumer surveys. Even with the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we still have over 1,800 passengers lined up to visit Japan this year, worth 6.7 million pounds (about $8.42 million) in direct spending in Japan.
It has been extremely expensive and difficult to maintain our operational readiness for what is now two years of no travel to Japan.
We are now reaching a critical period where we have difficult decisions to make. Do we continue this path -- holding firm, waiting for Japan to reopen but losing money month on month?
It would seem a shame to change course now when, surely, we are so close to Japan reopening to inbound travel.
What we would like from the Japanese government is a roadmap to reopening the country for inbound tourism.
Japan is now on a very short list of countries which remain closed and have not announced a reopening plan. Of the major economies, only China is also closed. In recent weeks, South Korea and New Zealand have both announced reopening plans.
We are not asking for a reopening date (although that would be brilliant), as I respect that this decision is for the Japanese government and people. But as a global business with dozens of employees in Japan and a business with a direct economic impact in Japan, we need some indication of how the reopening might happen and an approximate time frame.
By sharing our story, we hope that we can convince the Japanese government to share more information about how Japan will reopen to inbound tourism.
Head of Operations,
Inside Travel Group Ltd.
(Tyler Palma resides in Tokyo.)