Hokkaido bus firms offer all-you-can-ride passes for overseas visitors to Tokachi region

JIJI

Two bus companies have started to sell unlimited ride passes for foreign tourists in the Tokachi area of Hokkaido.

The passes allow visitors to hop freely on and off route buses in the area and are seen improving the mobility of the increasing number of visitors from overseas.

About 113,000 foreign visitors stayed at least overnight in the Tokachi area in fiscal 2016, which ended last March, 50 percent more than the figure three years earlier.

The two companies selling the bus passes, Obihiro-based Tokachi Bus Co. and Takushoku Bus Co., based in the town of Otofuke, hope the improvement of such services will attract more foreign tourists to the area.

Tourist attractions accessible by both companies’ local buses in the 19 cities, towns and villages of the Tokachi area include Obihiro Racecourse in Obihiro, known for its Banei Keiba racing by draft horses pulling iron sleds; the Tokachigawa Onsen hot springs resort in Otofuke; and Lake Shikaribetsu, which straddles the towns of Shikaoi and Kamishihoro.

With the unlimited passes, foreign tourists are able to travel around Tokachi without worrying about fares or renting vehicles.

The “Visit Tokachi Pass” costs ¥1,500 for one day and ¥2,500 for two days. It is sold at the bus terminal at Hokkaido Railway Co.’s Obihiro Station and at Tokachi-Obihiro Airport.

Although the tickets that come with the passes need to be put into the fare box when tourists get off the bus — a practice meant to keep tabs on where people board and disembark — users will be able to ride buses an unlimited number of times even after using all the coupons if they show the front of the pass to the driver.

“We hope to rejuvenate route buses by increasing the number of foreign passengers,” a Hokkaido prefectural official involved in the project said.