Japan Anticipates Return of Chinese Group Tours Amid Labor Shortage Concerns

Japanese industries are embracing the news of China’s decision to resume group tours to Japan, which were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement has stirred hopes of the revival of “bakugai,” the term used to describe the exuberant shopping sprees by Chinese tourists. While businesses are enthusiastic about the prospect of increased tourism, some sectors are expressing apprehension over potential labor shortages.

Both All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. are mulling over the possibility of ramping up the number of flights connecting China and Japan. This move is aimed at capitalizing on the projected influx of Chinese group tours, which is anticipated to have a positive impact on their revenues.

Koji Shibata, the President of ANA Holdings Inc., ANA’s parent company, expressed his belief that these tours will not only bring in more visitors to Japan but also invigorate the economy as a whole.

Reflecting this optimism, major department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. has proactively prepared for a surge in duty-free shopping. They have already expanded the number of service counters in their stores since the conclusion of last year’s fall season.

Even smaller establishments in popular tourist destinations like Tokyo’s Asakusa district are buoyed by this news. Koji Ojima, proprietor of a souvenir shop along the Nakamise shopping street leading to Senso-ji temple, remarked, “After years of absence, there are bound to be individuals keen on indulging in substantial shopping.” Ojima acknowledged the need to accommodate larger crowds and mentioned devising strategies to cater to the increased footfall.

In Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, a representative from a local tourism organization expressed high hopes for an economic boost. Chinese tourists are renowned for their significant spending habits, making them a promising source of economic stimulation.

Similar optimism resonates in western Japan, where Toshiyuki Suzuki, a Japanese-style inn operator near Nara Park, recounted the downturn his business faced due to the absence of reservations from Chinese tourists. Despite challenges posed by COVID-19 safety measures and labor shortages, Suzuki, a 70-year-old entrepreneur, conveyed that the anticipation of revived vitality outweighs his concerns.

Seibu Prince Hotels Worldwide Inc., known for its Prince Hotel brand, is cautiously optimistic about the potential increase in occupancy rates due to the anticipated surge in Chinese tourists. However, they remain watchful of potential labor scarcities.

The hospitality industry in Japan bore a severe blow due to the pandemic, leading to numerous employees leaving their positions. The hotel company’s spokesperson affirmed their commitment to securing individuals proficient in various languages, even considering internships as a means of bolstering their staff.

Notwithstanding the upbeat sentiment pervading various industries, some experts approach the situation with a degree of skepticism. They question whether the resumption of group tours will indeed lead to a substantial influx of Chinese tourists, considering the gradual recovery of the world’s second-largest economy.

Yusaku Nishimura, a scholar from the University of International Business and Economics in China, highlighted that even before the pandemic, Chinese tourists had been shifting preferences from group travel and shopping to more personalized experiences. This change could impact the anticipated surge in spending.

While acknowledging the potential consumption boost that group tours might bring to Japan, Nishimura emphasized that the influence might be limited, primarily due to factors like the value of the yen against the Chinese currency.

On Thursday, China lifted the restrictions on group tours for its citizens, a regulation that had been in effect since January 2020. Earlier, in February and March, China had announced the restart of overseas group tours for its citizens after a hiatus of nearly three years. However, the scope of these tours was restricted to 60 countries, and Japan was initially excluded from the list.

© TheJapanTimes

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