Business hotels located on expressways in Aichi Prefecture are seeing a sharp rise in Chinese customers as those touring the Tokyo-Kansai route seek a place midway to spend the night.
The trend reflects a shortage of accommodation in Nagoya itself: The cost to the prefecture is that the tourists spend the night without enjoying local attractions and then motor away.
While the highway hotels are adapting themselves to cope with demand, it means most tourists leave without doing any sightseeing in the Chubu region, the local tourism industry says.
At Matsukaze, a budget hotel a five-minute drive from the Toyota Interchange on the Tomei Expressway, a large tour bus filled with Chinese arrives from Kyoto almost every day at around 7 p.m.
Matsukaze started accepting groups of Chinese tourists at the beginning of the year, after a travel agency approached the hotel last year with a request to accept bookings for large groups for three to five days a week, citing the hotel’s proximity to the interchange.
“The agency initially asked us to receive tour groups every day, but we already have our hands full with other customers on business trips,” said hotel manager Kiyohito Miyazawa, 67.
To accommodate the needs of the Chinese tourists, the hotel quickly placed signs in Chinese around the building.
Tour agencies say itineraries covering Kyoto, Mount Fuji and Tokyo — the so-called Golden Route — remain the most popular route for tourists, which makes Aichi Prefecture the perfect place for a stopover with its extensive highway network connecting it to these destinations.
Most tour groups would typically stay in Nagoya, but as visitor numbers increased, agencies began including hotels from cities close to the interchange, including Toyota, Okazaki, Kariya, Toyokawa and Ichinomiya.
“All the hotels in Nagoya are fully booked. Tour agencies are rushing to book hotels in the outskirts of the city that have large parking spaces for tour buses,” said Borujido, 38, Chinese president of Daichi Agency Co., a Nagoya-based tour agency.
Many hotels have taken to reserving separate floors exclusively for Chinese tour groups to ensure that other customers who stay on business trips are not affected.
However, the region is struggling to attract tourists to local sightseeing spots, such as the Korankei gorge in the city of Toyota and Okazaki Castle in the city of Okazaki, both in Aichi Prefecture.
“Kyoto and Mount Fuji remain the most popular tourist destinations. Aichi Prefecture is convenient for staying the night, but we don’t have enough time to do sightseeing in the area as well,” said an official of a tour agency in Osaka.
The Japan Tourism Agency said the number of foreign visitors to Japan totaled 31.38 million in the first half of 2015, up 50 percent from the same period last year.
A total of 1.13 million tourists stayed in Aichi during that period, a 68 percent increase from a year before, higher than the national average. The rise is also attributable to Chubu Centrair International Airport, which has increased the number of direct flights to and from China.
As an alternative to the Golden Route, the nine prefectures that make up the Chubu region — Nagano, Aichi, Shizuoka, Mie, Gifu, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui and Shiga — are jointly promoting the Dragon Route, which links destinations in the less-known Tokai and Hokuriku regions.
“There are many tourist attractions in the area, from industrial tourism with the world-renowned Toyota Corp. and historical sites of the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, to outlet malls,” said Borujido, who is well versed in Chinese tourism trends. “If we can build interesting stories that appeal to people overseas, we will have a good chance of luring tourists to the area.”
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. This week’s story appears Wednesday because a press holiday meant The Japan Times did not print on Tuesday. The original article was published on Oct. 3.