If you're on a driving holiday in Hokkaido, this car rental app may help

PHOTO: iTunes

SAPPORO - A smartphone application for foreign tourists who rent cars in Hokkaido is being distributed on a trial basis through Nov. 30.

A rapidly increasing number of foreign visitors are using rental vehicles. This has led to the distribution of the "Drive Hokkaido!" mobile app, which provides such services as travel information and discount coupons, as part of a fiscal 2016-17 experiment conducted by the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

The bureau aims to draw foreign tourists in central Hokkaido out to other regions, so their visits are spread evenly over the area.

Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun

Users' GPS information will be analysed to see where they stay and how they travel, and the information used to devise future tourism-related policies. The app was developed by Navitime Japan Co., a Tokyo-based company that develops and operates a navigation service.

"Drive Hokkaido!" can be viewed in English and Chinese. Its benefits include discounts or free drinks at 249 Hokkaido sightseeing facilities outside of Sapporo, as well as information on driving routes and area attractions.

The bureau conducted a trial in October and November last year in which they placed 10,000 booklets containing discount coupons and other benefits at rental car offices, aiming to attract foreign tourists mainly to eastern Hokkaido. But tourists only took about 2,000 booklets, and just 3 per cent made use of the benefits.

This year, the bureau is testing the smartphone app, which is easy for foreigners to use, and has expanded the areas where benefits are offered. The trial period has also been extended to one month longer than last year. The demand and how foreign tourists respond will be observed.

According to the Hokkaido district federation of rent-a-car associations, there were 62,977 rentals by foreigners in Hokkaido in fiscal 2016, a 52 per cent increase from the previous fiscal year. This number was also about 10 times the 6,408 seen in fiscal 2011.