Japan to welcome back cruise ships

HONG KONG, 18 November 2022: Japan will allow international cruise ships to dock at its ports, transport minister Tetsuo Saito confirmed on 15 November, lifting a more than two-year ban imposed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ministry has determined that sufficient preparations have been made to accept cruise ships, with guidelines drafted by industry associations to prevent the spread of infections among passengers.

Passengers who demonstrate signs of infection need to be tested, and those with positive results and close contacts, will be quarantined. Even if an outbreak occurs, ships can continue cruise operations as long as a doctor on the ship determines the virus can be contained. However, the ship’s cruise schedule will be shortened if more than 10% of the passengers are infected.

Cruise companies will hold discussions with the local authorities of the port of call and seek approvals on docking. All crew members must be vaccinated three times against the virus, and more than 95% of passengers must be vaccinated at least twice under the guidelines.

In 2019, 2.15 million cruise passengers visited Japan, spending around USD575 million, with 1,932 stops made by foreign cruise companies and 934 by domestic ships. According to the Japan International Cruise Committee, 166 visits by foreign cruise ships are already planned to start next March.

South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong ready to welcome international cruises

In October, South Korea and Taiwan announced that they were ready to welcome international cruises again. However, due to cabotage laws, such announcements will have little impact without Japan, which is critical for cruising in Northeast Asia with approximately 100 ports of call.

This long-awaited announcement from the Japanese government will allow international cruise lines and local port authorities to begin establishing the specific policies and procedures required for the resumption of international cruising in Japan.

Taiwan had removed its ban on international cruises. At the same time, it ended mandatory quarantine for all overseas arrivals effective 13 October. The protocol rules require passengers to present a negative rapid Covid test on arrival in Taiwan or the day before. Taiwan was one of the first places globally to reinstate cruising when it approved cruises to nowhere in July 2020. Those cruises have since been halted.

It was announced on 19 October that foreign travellers would be allowed to disembark from ships arriving on Jeju Island, South Korea. Jeju will receive 32 tour cruises from Japan starting in March next year. Cruise tourism to Jeju Island peaked in 2016 with over 1.2 million passengers. However, the number dropped to 21,700 in 2018 due to Korea-China tensions escalating following the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system the year before. At the time, over 90% of arriving cruise ship tourists were from China.

Hong Kong had also earlier announced that it had lifted its cruising ban from October 2022, but the cruise terminal operator said it expects cruising to resume later. Travel agency sources in Hong Kong serving the cruise market forecast the return of cruises during the second quarter of 2023.

With the industry returning to pre-pandemic levels worldwide, mainland China remains the only major cruise market where cruising has yet to be approved.

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