Easing of visa rules paves way for biggest tourist group from China

by Setsuko Kamiya

The Japan National Tourism Organization has landed its biggest tourist group ever — 10,000 Chinese employees and their relatives — in a welcome piece of news for the government as it eases visa rules on individual Chinese tourists starting Thursday.

Pro-Health, a Beijing-based health product manufacturing and sales company, is providing the “incentive travel” package to its employees and their families, as well as those of the company’s distributors.

Such tours are provided by many Chinese companies as a reward for good performance or as part of employee training, according to JNTO.

Kazutaka Nakajima of JNTO said Wednesday that the government has been wooing this market for several years but hasn’t been very successful because visas were difficult to obtain and Japan was considered an expensive place to travel.

“Due to the easing of visa restrictions that took place last July, more Chinese are visiting Japan and finding that it’s less expensive here than they had imagined,” Nakajima said. “The spread of this notion apparently helped set the bar lower and Chinese are increasingly interested in Japan as a destination.”

Japan began granting travel visas to individual wealthy Chinese last July. From Thursday, the income criteria will be lowered, making an estimated 16 million more households eligible.

The Pro-Health-related employees and their relatives will start arriving in groups of 700 starting Oct. 9, JNTO said, adding there will be 14 or 15 groups in total.

Some groups will enter from Osaka and fly out of Tokyo, while others will take the reverse route. Either way, they will stay two days in both cities but will also make a short visit to Lake Hamana in Shizuoka Prefecture, Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture or the Yatsugatake Mountains in Nagano Prefecture.

JNTO estimates they will generate at least several hundred million yen in the tourism industry and among local businesses.

Pro-Health is a growing health product firm with 3,000 employees and 500 distributors nationwide.