Tourism promoters of Hokkaido are now turning their sights on increasingly affluent travellers in China and Southeast Asia, including those from Thailand and Malaysia.
Satoshi Nagahashi, director for international tourism, Bureau of Tourism, Hokkaido Government, told Business Traveller that the Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong markets had been the destination’s traditional clienteles for years, but with the economic boom in other parts of Asia-Pacific, his department felt it was time to spread further the message of the island’s attractions.
Japan’s northernmost prefecture has always been a popular holiday destination for Japanese tourists, especially for serious ski and winter sports enthusiasts. The 1972 Winter Olympics took place in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, and so did the 2007 Nordic Ski Championships.
Over recent years, interest in snow-based activities from Asian visitors to Japan has been seen to be rapidly increasing. Niseko, a town in southwestern Hokkaido, has grown in prominence as a hot international ski hub due to high-end projects by enterprises such as YTL of Malaysia, Pacific Century Premium Developments of Hong Kong and the local Tokyu Group. In fact, Niseko now boasts of a sizeable Australian presence made up of individuals who work in the tourism industry and have also invested in real estate there.
Thai Airways, which has served Japan for over 50 years, is flying to Sapporo thrice weekly from October 31, and four times weekly from January 2013. This is to capitalise on keen demand from Thai travellers “to get away from the heat and enjoy skiing”, said Wiwat Piyawiroj, the airline’s area general manager, Japan. He has observed a growing number of Thais eager to take up skiing as a recreational sport. The Chinese New Year break is usually peak season for traffic from that tropical kingdom to Hokkaido, including family groups. This is likewise around the time Sapporo stages its famous annual Sapporo Snow Festival, which sees enormous ice sculptures created by the Self-Defense Forces of Japan (in effect, its military).
Forward bookings are “looking very good” both ways, Piyawiroj said. Thailand is one of Japanese travellers’ favourite destinations, he added.
Hawaiian Airlines will also be flying to Sapporo in November, beefing up an airline roster that includes, besides Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Trans Asia, Air China and Jin Air among others.
Hokkaido drumbeaters are planning to raise awareness of the region’s summer appeal, according to Nagahashi of Hokkaido Tourism. The months of June, July and August are ideal for drinking beer in the various beer gardens set up in downtown Sapporo’s Odori Park, for inspecting a brace of flower farms in the countryside as well as gorging on the famous Yubari melon, and for taking cable car rides up to mountain peaks to enjoy fresh air and panoramic views.
“Hokkaido is to be enjoyed not just in winter but all year round,” Nagahashi said.
Margie T Logarta