Overseas visitors give winter tourism industry welcome lift

|     Yoshinaga Azekawa     |

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) – 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.

“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 General Director of Inbound Tourism Promotion at the Akita prefectural government Kazuhide Masuko.

Foreign tourists participate in an event at a defunct ski area near Tazawako Skiing Area in Senboku, Akita Prefecture. – THE JAPAN NEWS/ANN

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 programmes 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.