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Overseas visitors give winter tourism industry welcome lift

Yoshinaga Azekawa

The Japan News/Asia News Network

 /  Mon, February 25, 2019  /  05:09 pm
Overseas visitors give winter tourism industry welcome lift

Tourists enjoy the view of sunset over Mt.Fuji from the pleasure boat on Lake Kawaguchiko, Japan, in winter (Shutterstock/Piyawan Charoenlimkul)

The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan’s ski resorts is expanding amid a continued slump in the ski and snowboard industries. Businesses and municipalities are trying to accelerate the increase of overseas visitors, while also hoping to lift domestic demand.

They come for ‘Japow’

“That was my first time out on the snow. I had a lot of fun, even without skiing,” said Melissa Crowley, a South African studying at Akita University, after riding on an inflatable raft pulled by a snowmobile.

Crowley was taking part in a tour for foreigners that the local municipality and a private company were trialing at a defunct ski area in Senboku, Akita Prefecture, in mid-February.

The two-day tour also included visits to hot springs and making kiritanpo, skewers of mashed rice cooked over a hearth, with local farmers — experiences aimed to show off Japan’s charms.

“We hope awareness of the area will be boosted overseas and that the tour can run as a private business from next season,” said Kazuhide Masuko, general director of Inbound Tourism Promotion at the Akita prefectural government.

The Japan Tourism Agency hopes that this kind of initiative will help to increase the number of repeat and long-term visitors. The agency is funding related surveys and it plans to promote similar programs nationwide.

Japan’s high-quality powder snow, dubbed Japow, is well known overseas. Large resorts in Hokkaido and Nagano Prefecture have seen a sharp rise in visitors from China and other Asian countries in addition to tourists from Australia, Europe and the United States.

The number of foreign tourists who visit Japan to ski or snowboard has more than tripled since 2012, increasing from about 277,000 to about 858,000 in 2017, according to agency estimates.

To deal with this influx, many areas are providing more information in foreign languages and hiring multilingual staff.

Other facilities are trying to differentiate themselves eyeing domestic demand, including by restricting the use of snowboards to attract older skiers or making themselves more family-friendly, by providing facilities for parents such as breastfeeding rooms, among other measures.

In December 2017, the nation’s first new ski area in 14 years opened in Hyogo Prefecture.

Yama-Kei Publishers Co., based in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, revived two ski magazines in 2015 after a hiatus of seven seasons. The launch of a third publication is planned later this year.

“If ski areas make themselves more attractive and people learn about the appeals of their surrounding areas, domestic customers will return,” said Kazuki Hisada, an editor at Yama-Kei Publishers.

Read also: Getting foreign tourists in Japan to see the 'wild' side

Backcountry accidents rise

As the popularity of “backcountry” skiing on natural slopes outside ski-area boundaries has increased, so has the occurrence of accidents linked to the activity.

Ski resorts such as Niseko in Hokkaido and Hakuba in Nagano Prefecture have created their own rules for backcountry skiing, such as requiring people to submit routes beforehand or pay rescue fees.

“Businesses and municipalities need to create an environment that reduces the risk of accidents and allows skiers to have fun,” said Prof. Tadashi Endo of Sapporo International University. “People also need a high level of safety awareness.”

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This article appeared on The Japan News newspaper website, which is a member of Asia News Network and a media partner of The Jakarta Post