The Yomiuri Shimbun
Transportation companies outside the nation's major cities are improving and upgrading their services to cater to the increasing numbers of foreign tourists visiting Japan. The most popular destinations for foreign visitors are currently concentrated in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and other famous cities, but transportation providers elsewhere are hoping to attract some of them to their areas as well.
Sapporo: Luxury limousine coaches
By Hiroyuki Yoneyama / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
Sapporo Kanko Bus, a Sapporo-based chartered bus company, offers sightseeing tours using small luxury limousine coaches.
In response to requests from wealthy foreign tourists visiting Hokkaido, the company began the service in December 2014. Visitors from abroad said they wanted to travel only with family members, without having to worry about language barriers.
The service costs about ¥100,000 a day per coach, but 2,000 people in 300 groups used it in 2015. This year, the company increased the number of its limousines from three to five.
The nine-seat limousine is a modified version of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Coaster small bus model.
The interior of the vehicle is basically white, and the leather sofa-like seats face each other. Users can relax like they are in the living room of their own homes, Sapporo Kanko Bus says, with specially prepared alcoholic beverages and cuisine.
Attendants who can speak English or Chinese accompany the guests, and the company even charters helicopters if necessary.
About 1.5 million foreign tourists visit Hokkaido annually. Sapporo Kanko Bus predicts that demand for the limousine service will continue to grow and plans to increase the number of limousines to 12 in the coming three years. It also plans to deepen business ties with farming households that operate restaurants.
"I want to establish a tourism route for wealthy tourists from overseas, in which visitors will tour more places in Hokkaido," said company President Yasuji Fukumura.
Miyagi: Advantageous pass
By Tomofumi Yonezawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
East Nippon Expressway Co.'s Tohoku branch and Miyagi Prefectural Road Corporation began selling a flat-rate Tohoku Expressway Pass in November last year. The pass is aimed at foreign tourists who rent cars equipped with the electronic toll collection (ETC) system.
The companies are stressing that users who do not speak Japanese can feel more comfortable when they pass through toll collection gates because the ETC system allows automatic toll payment.
The pass can be purchased at a total of nine rent-a-car offices of three companies, including Nippon Rent-A-Car Tohoku Co., when tourists rent cars with the ETC system. The price for the unlimited-use pass ranges from ¥4,000 for two days to ¥12,000 for 14 days.
Normal expressway tolls are ¥3,580 from Sendai Airport in Miyagi Prefecture to Chusonji temple in Iwate Prefecture, and ¥7,800 from the airport to the Shirakami mountain range straddling Aomori and Akita prefectures. Using the passes can therefore significantly reduce expressway tolls for visitors.
There are still few users of the passes, but officials concerned said that reactions from potential users were good. One response at a business conference in Taiwan was, "It [the pass system] will appeal to ski tourists who have to carry lots of baggage."
A spokesperson for the Tohoku branch of East Nippon Expressway said, "We want to increase the number of users, while resolving such problems as the small number of offices that sell them."
Wakayama: Round-trip tickets
By Teruaki Yamamoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) and four fixed-route bus companies operating in Wakayama Prefecture are selling flat-rate round-trip tickets for foreign tourists, with which they can more easily visit World Heritage sites such as the Kumano Kodo pilgrim routes and the three Kumano Sanzan shrines.
Users do not need to pay fares each time they get on or off the buses, and do not need to exchange money or deal with small change. The tickets are ¥8,500 each, about 10 per cent lower than standard fares.
The special round-trip bus tickets are available to foreign tourists who have bought special flat-rate tickets, such as those that enable them to ride JR trains anywhere in the Kansai region for five days.
Holders of the tickets can use fixed-route buses operating from major JR train stations in southern Wakayama Prefecture for three days. The buses are operated by Meiko Bus Inc., Kumano Kotsu Co., Ryujin Jidousha Co. and Nara Kotsu Bus Lines Co.
Users of the tickets praised the service, saying it is convenient to be able to spend a long time visiting famous tourist spots such as the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine, Nachi Falls and the Shirahama Onsen hot spring resort. About 300 visitors have used the tickets since they went on sale in November last year.
The ticket system was introduced after the prefectural government's division for tourism and exchanges proposed it to the companies, saying it wants to draw foreign tourists to the southern part of the prefecture.
The division is also considering collaborating with souvenir shops so that holders of the tickets will be able to receive discounts.
"We'll make the tickets more convenient to use so that the system will take root," an official of the division said.