Tokyo (CNN) – The Japan Tourism Agency announced on Tuesday, May 17 that it would begin approving small group tours in May as part of a “test tourism” trial before the country fully opens up to foreign visitors.
The country’s tourism agency added that the trial would allow the government to evaluate health and safety protocols and how to deal with covid-19 infections in trial participants, according to a statement issued by the country’s tourism agency on Tuesday.
“This initiative will allow us to develop compliance and emergency response responses to infection prevention and to develop guidelines for travel agencies and housing operators to consider,” the statement said.
The trial – which has been delayed since the end of 2021 due to increasing border control measures against the Omicron variant – will be open to triple-vaccinated tourists from Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. The Japan Tourism Agency will organize tours with travel agencies and incoming tour conductors will be with tour groups at all times. Tourists in the tour group will have a scheduled itinerary.
A government spokesman – who declined to be named as a customary practice in Japan – added that the government was considering approving 50 tourists for trial package tours, but said that number was yet to be determined.
Participating travelers must also have private health insurance.
There will be no change in the current testing requirements for entry into the country. Visitors must submit a negative covid test taken 72 hours prior to departure and retest on arrival.
Currently, only 10,000 people are allowed to enter Japan every day, but the government plans to increase that number to 20,000 in June, according to a report by state broadcaster NHK.
The latest decision comes at a time when Japan is facing increasing pressure from local businesses and the international community to reopen the border.
Earlier in May, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan would reopen for tourism this year along with other G7 countries, but did not provide a timeline for when the borders would be fully opened.
Japan’s current border entry measures allow 10,000 new arrivals per day, but do not include leisure tourists. For the moment, citizens, residents, researchers, students, family members of residents and business travelers can enter with prior approval. Some faces remain in quarantine depending on where they are coming from.
A record 31.9 million foreign visitors came to Japan in 2019, and according to 2022 data released by the Japan National Tourism Organization, the target of welcoming 40 million tourists before the epidemic in 2020 was predicted to be achieved.