Travel agencies have seen a surge in inquiries about tours to Japan after the foreign ministry announced that tourists from Hong Kong could enter the country quarantine-free on a package tour basis from June 10.
Since the announcement, travel agencies have received dozens of inquiries about their tour packages to the country, but most industry players said they were awaiting guidelines from the Japanese government before they could roll out concrete plans.
Japan announced on Thursday that it would scrap travel restrictions for travellers from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China and roughly 100 countries and regions, starting with groups on guided tours.
Incoming travellers from these places, on what Japan called a blue list, were not required to be vaccinated, undergo testing or quarantine against Covid-19 upon arrival.
While unvaccinated travellers can enter Japan quarantine-free, people coming to Hong Kong must be inoculated with two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine to get into the city and need to undergo testing and seven days of compulsory hotel quarantine upon arrival.
Hong Kong, meanwhile, confirmed 250 new Covid-19 infections on Friday, including 29 imported cases. One more virus-related death was reported.
The Japanese government was preparing to resume international flights at Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport and Okinawa’s Naha Airport by the end of next month.
Travel agency WWPKG said it was planning a 15-day package to central Japan, although it was still awaiting details, such as caps on group sizes. Together with Hong Kong’s seven-day quarantine, the entire journey is estimated to take up to 23 days.
The tour, currently priced at HK$45,000, is set to depart at the end of August. The cost includes a return flight on the city’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific and seven days of hotel quarantine upon arrival in Hong Kong. The tour will explore the Shoryudo, which refers to the nine prefectures in Japan’s central Chubu and Hokuriku regions that resemble the shape of a rising dragon.
Hong Thai Travel Services said it had received around 10 calls from interested participants looking to travel to Japan.
A Hong Thai spokesman said that while the company was still waiting for more guidelines on tours, it welcomed the news because it brought hope to the industry and provided travellers with more options.
EGL Tours said it had close to 30 inquiries on Friday morning, with the operator later announcing it was offering a seven-day package for Japan.
The tour agency said customers who purchased its first package would depart the city on June 11, adding that it planned to work with the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong to organise tourist visas, pending further information.
Costing close to HK$30,000, customers would land at Narita International Airport in Tokyo before exploring the Tateyama Kurobi Alpines in central Japan.
The cost of the trip also covers seven nights at a quarantine hotel upon returning to Hong Kong as well as pre-departure tests at both locations.
Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, chief executive of EGL Tours, said one of the largest expenses for the company was covering the costs of hotel quarantine for employees, in addition to their salaries.
While the price of the package is double that of pre-pandemic rates, Huen said there was a huge demand among Hongkongers who were hoping to go on “homecoming” trips to Japan.
Although Japan is slowly reopening its borders, the cost and duration of quarantine in Hong Kong is still a huge deterrent for many leisure travellers.
Hugo Novales, 26, who had been planning to visit Japan since 2020 for the summer Olympics, said the East Asian country was still one of his top destinations, but he was put off by the hefty price tag and return quarantine requirements.
“If I go, I will need to take an entire month off of work. I don’t think it’s possible,” said Novales, who works as an English teacher. “I really want to visit Japan and if Japan starts to open up more, then there’s that hope there, but I’ll probably wait until there isn’t any quarantine in Hong Kong.”
For Macau, which is on Japan’s “yellow” list, as well as a pre-departure test, unvaccinated residents need to undergo on-arrival testing and seven-day home quarantine or three-day home quarantine supported by a negative test result.
Those who obtain a valid vaccination certificate are not required to have an on-arrival test, home quarantine and other measures.
Japan has long been a favourite destination for Hongkongers, with some fans choosing to fly north for stays as short as a weekend in trips they viewed as akin to a “homecoming”.
According to data from the Japanese National Tourism Organisation, Hongkongers accounted for 7.1 per cent of the 31.8 million visitor arrivals logged in 2019.
Hong Kong’s Covid-19 count stands at 1,211,588 cases, with 9,375 related deaths.