Cool! Shiribeshi

We have invited people who have immigrated from abroad and are now living in the Shiribeshi region of central Hokkaido to contribute columns from a variety of perspectives. The columns appear in Japanese in the morning edition of the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper every other Monday. https://www.hokkaido-np.co.jp/series/s_cool_otaru
In this section, the columns are posted in the author's original text.

Special feature

【Column】Tourism Businesses Need an Official Roadmap to Recovery

Written by Kristian Lund; Australian 14-year resident of Niseko and Managing Editor of “Powderlife”

In March I flew home to Australia to see family and friends for the first time in two years. Australia had some of the world’s strictest travel restrictions through the pandemic, so I was expecting an arduous immigration process. To my surprise it turned out to be a breeze. After showing my vaccination certificates and negative PCR test results along with my passport, I was free to enter the country.

Returning to Japan in early April was a totally different story. At Haneda we were directed to a small, unused departure lounge packed with hundreds of other travellers. We spent the next four hours in slow, criss-crossing lines and waiting areas as we progressed through about 10 stations for testing and processing. We were constantly mixing with other travellers in closed spaces with no organised social distancing. If any of those travellers had had COVID-19, it could have spread to many people who were about to enter the country.

The Japanese Government needs to look at what other major countries around the world are doing and open the borders for tourism without making it too complicated. It was a welcome relief to hear Prime Minister Kishida earlier this month announce the country may start allowing trial tourist groups in by June. But requiring them to go through the entry process I described above, and submit travel itineraries, is too complicated. Fully vaccinated travellers can enter Australia since April 19 without PCR test, and it is the same for many other countries. The Japanese Government needs to do the same and get back to business as usual.

Prime Minister Kishida’s announcement also doesn’t go far enough for the people working in Japan’s tourism industry – there is still no communication or roadmap to let business owners and employees know when they can get back to business.

After two years with no international customers in Niseko, we are hoping to bounce back this winter and give the region a much-needed economic boost via international ski tourism. This is vital to save thousands of local people’s businesses and livelihoods.

But if we are to open this winter we have much to do: we need to find, hire and train qualified bilingual staff; rent business premises; invest in new equipment; start spending on marketing; and much more. We can’t leave that to December, or even September – we need to do it now. But business is in a holding pattern – we need the government to announce its plans or strategy so we can prepare to reopen.

The Japanese Government has done an amazing job over the past two decades building the international tourism industry to take it from 5 million visitors a year in 2003 to 30 million in 2019. In the process, they encouraged hundreds of thousands of small business owners, workers and families from Shiretoko to Okinawa to rely on tourism.

Many countries are now opening up and living with COVID. Shiribeshi is an international tourism hotspot and I am sure many tourism business owners want the Japanese government to open up too. Or, at the very least, provide a clear roadmap to let them know exactly when they will.

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