High demand for Japan travel with weaker yen, but tour prices go up
Since 2015, consultant Jastine Goh, 32, has been making annual trips to Japan to snowboard, explore and enjoy the food.
So, in October 2021, after vaccinated travel lanes were announced, he made a pre-emptive booking to lock in fares. Mr Goh, whose last trip to Japan was in early 2020, paid $690 each for Singapore Airlines flights to Fukuoka and out of Osaka for himself and his wife.
They had initially planned to travel in April and changed their flights to October at the start of the year. Checks by The Straits Times show that the prices of similar flights have since doubled.
Mr Goh is one of many Singaporeans anticipating a wider reopening of Japan's borders, after its government announced on May 26 that it would begin allowing in tourists from 36 countries, starting from June 10. These will be limited to tour groups.
Even before the announcement, travel agents who spoke to The Straits Times say they have received a surge of inquiries and bookings for the autumn and winter season this year.
EU Holidays, for instance, has secured about 100 bookings for tours between September and December at its Japan travel fair, held at its office in Suntec City this month.
Mr Ong Hanjie, a director at the agency, observes that customers were less price-conscious and quicker to book tours than before the pandemic. "Singaporeans love Japan a lot and are dying to go back," he says.
The company is so confident about Japan's reopening that it has promised full cash refunds if this fails to materialise - uncommon among travel players, who usually offer credits or a date change instead.
Meanwhile, JTB Singapore has received a handful of bookings, even as it awaits official word on the size of tour groups that will be allowed in.
Its executive director Shin Fujimoto says these early bookings are indicative of pent-up travel demand among people in Singapore, who have been making inquiries since March.
He anticipates that sales in the second half of this year will outstrip pre-pandemic numbers - of about 5,000 bookings a month during the peak seasons of October to December and March to May.
Another agency, Follow Me Japan, has also been fielding inquiries from customers and customising tour itineraries for them.
But managing director Risa Nishimura says tour packages will cost 10 to 20 per cent more than before the pandemic, an estimate echoed by industry players.
Airlines have not yet increased flights to meet the spike in demand, fuel costs have driven up the price of land transport and hotel rates have gone up due to a manpower crunch across the hospitality industry.
But independent travellers are optimistic that the news will herald more relaxed rules in the coming months.
Tech consultant Chan Guo Wei, 30, is planning to travel with his wife and parents to Hokkaido in September.
He is confident that the trip can go ahead. Even if it does not, his air ticket with Japan Airlines, for which he paid just over $1,000 at the start of May, includes a $50 cancellation fee that allows him a full refund.
Meanwhile, Mr Goh is looking forward to resuming regular vacations to Japan and has shored up enough yen to do so. With the price of the yen hitting a 20-year low last month, he changed a low four-figure sum with Youtrip, a multi-currency mobile wallet.
"I intend to travel to Japan again and will be able to take advantage of the cost savings on future trips," he says.