KUSHIRO, HOKKAIDO – Hokkaido has been stepping up efforts to attract foreign tourists during its off-season period in spring and is currently zeroing in on Thailand, where the holiday season starts in March and continues through May.
As part of these efforts, the tourism ministry’s Hokkaido District Transport Bureau in April invited Thai journalists on an experimental tour, in cooperation with the Kinki District Transport Bureau in Kansai, during which participants took in both snow in Hokkaido and cherry blossoms in Osaka.
Last year, around 200,000 Thais visited Japan, a 1.4-fold increase over five years, the Japan National Tourism Organization said.
“In view of the buoyancy of Thailand’s economy, we will likely see further growth (in their numbers),” a JNTO official said.
As eastern Hokkaido usually struggles to draw many tourists in springtime, the city of Kushiro, other municipalities and local a tourism organization proposed last year to the JNTO a plan to attract families along with a tour to let participants play in the snow.
The concept then developed into the experimental tour involving the whole of Hokkaido and the Kansai region, where cherry trees bloom until mid-April.
On the tour, journalists from Thailand were first taken to the head office of the Japan Mint in Osaka, where late-blooming varieties of cheery trees can be seen, and to Kiyomizu Temple, one of the most popular Buddhist temples in Kyoto. Participants then flew 1,200 km to eastern Hokkaido to visit Kushiro Marsh and Lake Mashu for canoeing and to play in the snow.
After taking part in the seven-day tour, Chamlong Boonsong, a 59-year-old tourism news editor at Thailand’s Post Today, said, “I think it is a great idea that tourists can enjoy both cherry blossoms and snow at once, but it was a bit tiresome for us to move that long distance.”