Hokuriku Shinkansen set to usher in tourists

Hokuriku Shinkansen set to usher in tourists

JAPAN - The tourism industry in Ishikawa Prefecture has hopes that the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line on March 14 will help bring more visitors from the Tokyo metropolitan area to its hot spring resorts.

Long considered a relaxing getaway destination for residents in the Kansai region, Ishikawa Prefecture has an abundance of good hot spring resorts. With the opening of the new superexpress train line, the trip from JR Tokyo Station to JR Kanazawa Station can be covered in two hours 28 minutes, one hour and 20 minutes less than now.

The new travel time will be almost the same as that from JR Osaka Station to Kanazawa Station. With only six months left before its opening, Ishikawa's tourism industry is undertaking a variety of public relations campaigns targeting the 40 million people living in the metropolitan area.

During a test run on Saturday, a W7 series bullet train to be used on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line reached its highest speed of 260 kph for the first time, evidence of the envisaged plan's feasibility.

In the upcoming six months before the opening, East Japan Railway Co. and West Japan Railway Co. will test controls over multiple trains running simultaneously. A more detailed operation schedule will be announced around December.

Currently, Ishikawa Prefecture is connected with the Kansai region by Thunderbird limited express trains that run between Kanazawa and Osaka stations in two hours 34 minutes at the fastest.

Of the prefecture's annual 11 million visitors, 2.59 million came from the Kansai region and 2.42 million from the metropolitan area in 2012.

However, since the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line will make travel times from the two regions almost equal, the prefecture is now aiming to attract 5 million tourists from the Tokyo metropolitan area next year, twice the current figure.

The prefecture has even estimated the economic effects of the new line to be equivalent to ¥12.1 billion, marking a historical turning point that would raise the status of the Hokuriku region, where the prefecture is located.

Travelers from Tokyo typically use the Joetsu Shinkansen line from Tokyo Station to JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station, where they transfer to a limited express train. But it takes nearly four hours to reach Kanazawa Station on this route. Apparently due to the long travel time, 60 per cent of visitors to the prefecture arrive by plane. Though there are one-hour flights from Haneda Airport to Komatsu Airport in the prefecture, air travelers must spend an additional 40 minutes on a bus from the airport to Kanazawa's city centre. The inconvenience has long been blamed for making Tokyo visitors think twice about traveling to Kanazawa.

Tsuyoshi Takemoto of Kinki Nippon Tourist Individual Tour Co., who oversees the Hokuriku region, said: "Demand for a Shinkansen line, which doesn't require changing trains, is high [in the metropolitan area]. The Kanto region will be a bigger PR target than the Kansai region."

Stepping up hospitality

Kagaya, a ryokan inn famous for its hospitality in the Wakura hot spring resort on the Noto Peninsula, hired 67 people this spring, almost double last year's figure, in anticipation of the Hokuriku Shinkansen's opening.

For the training of fresh hires including them, an association of inns in the resort held a three-day seminar on hospitality for the first time. The association also plans to offer a full array of services including bus tours for visiting historic sites.

Takanobu Oda, chairman of the association, said they aim to have 1.2 million tourists a year, 1.5 times more than the current number, after the opening.

"This is a once-in-a-century opportunity," he said. "We want to welcome tourists with great hospitality."

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