Tokyo (CNN) — The Japan Tourism Agency announced on Tuesday, May 17 that it would start allowing small group tours in May as part of a “test tourism” trial before the country fully reopens to foreign visitors.
The country’s tourism agency added that the trial will allow the government to assess health and safety protocols and how to deal with Covid-19 infections among the trial participants, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the country’s tourism agency.
“This venture will allow us to verify compliance and emergency responses for infection prevention and formulate guidelines for travel agencies and accommodation operators to keep in mind,” the statement said.
The trial — which was delayed from the end of 2021 due to increased 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 plan the tours with travel agencies and incoming tour conductors will accompany tour groups at all times. Tourists in the tour groups will have fixed travel itineraries.
The government spokesman — who declined to be named as is customary practice in Japan — added that the government is considering allowing in 50 tourists for the trial package tours but said that number is yet to be decided.
Participating tourists must also have private health insurance.
There will be no change to the current testing requirements for entering the country. Visitors will have to submit a negative Covid test taken 72 hours before departure and test again upon arrival.
Currently, only 10,000 people per day are allowed to enter Japan, but the government is considering upping that number to 20,000 in June, according to a report from state broadcaster NHK.
This latest decision comes as Japan faces mounting pressure from domestic businesses and the international community to reopen the border.
Earlier in May, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan would reopen to tourism this year in line with other G7 nations, but did not provide a timeline on when borders would fully open.
Japan’s current border entry measures allow 10,000 new arrivals per day, but does not include leisure tourists. For the moment, citizens, residents, researchers, students, residents’ family members and business travelers with prior approval can enter. Some face quarantine depending on where they are arriving from.
A record 31.9 million foreign visitors came to Japan in 2019 and the country was forecast to achieve its goal of welcoming 40 million tourists in 2020 before the pandemic hit, according to 2022 data released by the Japan National Tourism Organization.