WAIKIKI, Hawaii (KHON2) — The pandemic has been rough for many local businesses, especially those that rely on international tourism.

Japanese tourists have had tight travel restrictions throughout the pandemic, but things are looking up.

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The Japanese government dropped its pre-travel testing requirements for all returning travelers on Wednesday, Sept. 7 as long as they have received at least three doses of the COVID vaccine.

The Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association said it is welcome news.

“That’s huge because in the past, when a Japanese visitor would come, obviously they had to make sure that they tested negative before they returned,” HLTA president Mufi Hannemann said, “sometimes it would take a while before that could take place.”

Hawaii Tourism Japan said pandemic restrictions brought island-bound Japanese visitors down by about 90%.

“And now I think we’re down like about 83%, but with this last impediment that’s been removed as of September 7th, we expect a nice year end, kind of traditionally busy time for the Japanese.”

Eric Takahata, Hawaii Tourism Japan managing director

The president of SKY Waikiki told KHON2 that Japanese visitors used to make up a majority of his patrons.

“I think it used to be like a 40%, 30% Japanese tourist, so right now, 5%? So you can tell how much impact we had,” Hide Sakurai said. “Blue ocean, blue sky, what’s missing? I think Japanese and some other Asian market tourists.”

The Hawaii Restaurant Association added that tourism does not only benefit visitors.

“Remember that many of your neighbors, many of your relatives, work in the industry of hospitality. So, the hospitality industry is what fuels our islands and so we do need our tourism to come back,” said HRA executive director Sheryl Matsuoka.

There is also good news for locals who want to travel to Japan; All bookings had to be guided tours with strict schedules and supervision up until Wednesday.

“And you can now go and register for these self-guided tours, with the certified and registered tour companies,” Takahata said.

Do not just book a ticket, Takahata said, tourists in Japan need travel visas with clearance from the Health Ministry.

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“The tour companies surely know how to navigate that,” Takahata said, “They help you with the visas, they help you with all the necessary paperwork and documents that you need to go into Japan as a visitor.”