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Hokkaido Attracts Tourists from Australia and Asia (March 16, 2006)

Foreign skiers take to the slopes. (Kutchan Government Office)
The number of overseas travelers who visit Hokkaido during the winter months, particularly from Australia and Asia, has begun to soar. These visitors are drawn to Japan's northernmost island by two main attractions: snow and hot springs. Skiers from Australia visit the winter resorts of Niseko in search of powder snow, while tours bringing travelers from countries like Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea visit places like Noboribetsu City to sample their hot springs. Amid this influx of foreign visitors, local resorts are scurrying to employ foreign-language-speaking staff and provide English-language menus in their restaurants in an effort to make these travelers feel more welcome.

Powdery Destination
Kutchan Town, where Niseko is located, has a population of 16,000. About three years ago, skiers from Australia started to become an increasingly noticeable presence in this little town. These skiers had learned of Niseko through word of mouth. Due to the relatively poor snow quality of Australian ski resorts, ski lovers there have long trekked to the Alps in Europe or to Canada in search of quality slopes. However, the distance and high cost of traveling to these regions prompted Australian skiers to look for alternatives. They soon discovered the powdery snow to be found at Niseko, and glowing reports about the resort began to spread by word of mouth.

Enjoying a local izakaya (tavern) (Kutchan Government Office)

A direct Qantas Airlines flight is offered twice a week between Cairns, Australia and Chitose Airport in Sapporo, Hokkaido's main city. The flight takes about seven hours one way. As the seasons are reversed between Australia and Hokkaido, the visitors can enjoy skiing during their summer, and there is almost no time difference. Last but not least is the snow quality, which these skiers describe as the best in the world. With the added attractions of inexpensive lift tickets and great food, the number of Australian skiers visiting Hokkaido has doubled each year, with 8,000 expected from Down Under this winter.

English Speakers Wanted
The rapid increase in Australian travelers inspired an Australian ski resort company to purchase one of Niseko's ski resorts. Meanwhile, a four-building, 30-lot condominium complex built using Australian capital quickly sold out, as have 90% of other properties still under construction. In response to this boom, locals are rushing to provide English menus for their restaurants, hire English-speaking staff, and teach English conversation to hospital employees in order to make the area more accessible to its visitors. The popularity of the area is also supported by established Australian residents of Kutchan Town, who not only tell visitors from their homeland about the attractions of Niseko but also help them to understand local customs like Japanese bathing.

o-saifu keitai
An English sign (Kutchan Government Office)

Of course, not all of the visitors to Hokkaido during winter are from Australia. Recently, there have been a steady stream of tours comprised of travelers from countries like Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, where snow is rare. Many of the tours combine sightseeing at the Sapporo Snow Festival with trips to hot spring destinations like Noboribetsu and Touya. There has also been an increase in the number of skiers from South Korea, which is currently experiencing a skiing boom. To illustrate this growth in foreign tourism, in 1995 only 1,500 foreign travelers visited Noboribetsu City; in 2005, 8,000 visited in the space of just six months. The explanation for the growing traffic of foreign visitors was summed up by one tour operator, who said, "The main attractions of winter in Hokkaido are snow and hot springs."

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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