BEIJING, March 26 -- Chinese tourists to Japan, who were once required to
travel in groups, will soon be able to visit on their own as Japan begins
handing individual visas to Chinese citizens this summer.
But the relaxation in visa policy only targets people in Beijing, Shanghai
and Guangzhou who earn at least 250,000 yuan ($36,600) a year, Shanghai-based
Xinmin Evening News reported yesterday.
Japanese media estimated the measure could encourage 250,000 more tourists
from the Chinese mainland to visit Japan, up from a yearly average of 1 million.
But tour agencies were less optimistic.
Dong Xiang, manager of Japan tours with China Travel International Ltd,
said Japan relaxed the visa policy last year by giving visas to families with
more than two people.
Previously, Chinese tourists had to travel in tour groups of more than five
But by the end of 2008, only 10 people from four families had applied for
such visas to Japan, he said.
"The problem is that Japan demands each of these Chinese families be
accompanied by a Chinese tour leader and a Japanese tour guide. This adds to the
tourists' cost and causes trouble for tour agencies, too," he said.
"If the new visa policy does not solve this problem, it will make no
difference to us," he said.
Xinmin Evening News also quoted a Shanghai tour agency manager as saying
that there are only a few people with an annual income of more than 250,000
Guo Chunling, a manager with the Beijing office of Japan National Tourism
Organization, said that the implementation date and the condition on applicants'
income have not been decided.
"We can only say we have confidence that the Japanese government will start
granting individual visas to Chinese tourists this summer," she said.
Japanese media reported that 580,800 foreign tourists visited Japan in
January, 18.4 percent less than the same period last year.
But tourists from the Chinese mainland bucked the trend by increasing 31.4
percent to 110,400 in January.
The number of visits from other major source markets for Japan has mostly
slumped, including Japan's biggest tourist market, South Korea, which decreased
by half to 129,600 people in January.
(Source: China Daily)