Revamped inns target foreign guests

Japanese aesthetics key focus as Tokyo hotels gird for Olympic rush

by Junji Yamaguchi

Kyodo

Amid the latest tourism boom and in preparation for intensifying competition for guests ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, major hotels in downtown Tokyo have set out to win the hearts of foreign visitors with massive renovations infused with Japanese aesthetics while also upgrading Internet access and other facilities to meet the needs of international travelers.

The Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo near JR Shinagawa Station, for example, reopened last September after extensive refurbishment that placed emphasis on creating a tasteful Japanese touch.

In harmony with the hotel’s traditional Japanese landscape garden, guest rooms are decorated with delicate artwork that combines traditional woodwork involving joining wooden pieces together, known as “kyosashimono,” with Nishijin fabrics, both from the ancient capital of Kyoto. The room number plates are made of solid pine.

At the hotel’s newly opened restaurant that focuses mainly on Italian cuisine, seasonal ingredients — such as Kujo “negi,” also known as Kyoto scallion, and cheese from Hokkaido — are delivered from contracted farmers across the country. The dishes are served on Japanese-style tableware.

Hotel officials said they have received positive feedback from foreign guests on the renovation, quoting patrons as saying they appreciated the beauty of cherry blossom-motif carpeting in the rooms, as well as the greenery and quietness created by the Japanese garden despite being in close proximity to the hustle and bustle of a busy train station.

Similarly, Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo’s lively Shinjuku district also reopened by the end of last year after full-fledged renovation of 120 rooms on its upper floors to cater mainly to business travelers.

Custom-made “washi” paper covers the walls, and guest rooms now offer free Wi-Fi Internet access as well as spacious desks. The sky lounge offers a beautiful view of the Shinjuku nightscape.

Meanwhile, efforts to appeal to foreign visitors go beyond simple renovations in some cases.

Gotenyama Garden Hotel Laforet Tokyo in Shinagawa district, for example, has been rebranded as Tokyo Marriott Hotel and reopened in December.

Mori Trust Hotels & Resorts Co., which managed and operated the Gotenyama hotel, entered the alliance with Marriott International Inc. in hopes of utilizing the U.S. hotel chain’s globally recognized brand.

The renovated guest rooms feature larger beds that are more comfortable for heavier foreign guests, as well as carpeting featuring a design of cherry trees to evoke memories of the time when Gotenyama was known for its magnificent cherry blossoms.

For the convenience of modern-day travelers, all tables in the lounge are fitted with electrical outlets for guests to plug in their tablet computers and other mobile devices.

With the rebranding, the new hotel aims to achieve by the end of its first year a goal of having 40 percent of its guests coming from overseas, up from the average of 10-20 percent when it operated under the Laforet brand, hotel officials said.

“We will work to establish ourselves as a hotel to which guests who have chosen us for the (Marriott) reputation will want to come and stay with us again,” said Yasushi Aoshima, marketing director at Tokyo Marriott.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan has recovered from the sharp fall following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, surpassing 10 million people a year for the first time last year. It is expected to continue to increase for a while due to Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games and UNESCO’s addition of “washoku” traditional Japanese cuisine to its intangible heritage list.

But competition among hotels is expected to intensify, especially given that a number of foreign hotels are also scheduled to be built in Tokyo.

“It’s a matter of how quickly one can establish a good reputation among foreign visitors,” a senior official at a major hotel said.