The executive chairman of China's Group Ltd., Asia's biggest online travel agency, has said he wants to see Japan and China reopen their borders to each other for leisure travel "later this year," projecting a strong recovery in tourism demand despite the coronavirus pandemic.

A recovery in domestic travel would come first once the spread of cases starts to ease and the "next question" is when Japan and China can reach an agreement about reciprocal travel, said Co-founder and Executive Chairman James Liang in a recent interview via videolink with Kyodo News. Group Ltd. Co-Founder and Executive Chairman James Liang talks in an online interview with Kyodo News on Aug. 11, 2020. (Kyodo)

"I hope this kind of agreement can be reached later this year," Liang said from's Shanghai office. "Once the border opens, there will be a spike of outbound travel. There would be pent-up demand."

He said that travel will continue to be a "big industry" with individual leisure travel recovering first and group tours, business travel and travel related to conferences taking longer.

Japan currently bans the entry of all foreign nationals from 146 designated countries and regions in principle, including China, from which 9.59 million people visited Japan in 2019, accounting for a third of total inbound travelers.

The Japanese government has started discussions with China and 15 other economies on easing the travel restrictions, but the resumption of business travel is expected to come before tourist visits are allowed again.

To keep customers motivated ahead of the eventual easing of travel, Liang said is promoting various hotel vouchers through digital marketing, including live web broadcasts of programs with popular YouTubers pitching the facilities and destinations.

The company's vouchers are not only discounted but are fully refundable with no cancellation fees and have drawn strong demand from Chinese customers, showing evidence that outbound tourism is ready to recover, Liang said.

When a program on Japanese hotels and ryokan inns was streamed live to Chinese users in mid-July, some 22,912 rooms were booked for a total of 26.19 million yuan ($3.79 million), said.

"The beauty of the pre-sale deals is that you can lock in the discount but you don't have any risks" since vouchers are refundable, Liang said. "Japan is actually by far the most favorite destination (among Chinese customers)...When the border opens, they would definitely come to Japan."

He said such livestreamed promotion programs -- of one hour in length -- can also help travelers gain deeper knowledge about their destinations, while providing opportunities for hotels to pitch their charms.

"Through our broadcasts we show the properties of the hotels in very good details so the customer will learn a lot more in depth about the properties and about the destination that will increase the brand awareness among the consumers," Liang said.

"I think in our experience, this is a very effective way to promote tourism during the recovery stage and really speeds up the recovery," he said.

The chairman said such livestreamed promotion programs featuring Chinese accommodation facilities and travel destinations for Japanese customers will also be aired.