National

Beppu launches English-language onsen website in the hopes of attracting more foreign tourists ahead of 2020 Tokyo Olympics

JIJI

The city of Beppu, Oita Prefecture, has launched an English-language website on local onsen (hot springs) ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, in the hopes of attracting foreign visitors.

An increased number of visitors from abroad are expected to visit not just Tokyo but many other Japanese cities throughout the summer of the games.

Oita Prefecture has the highest number of hot springs and produces the largest volume of hot spring water among all prefectures in the country.

The annual number of foreign guests staying overnight in the prefecture rose 2.4 times to some 820,000 over the four years through 2017.

With many of those guests coming from other parts of Asia, the Oita Prefectural Government believes it needs to lure more visitors from Europe, North America and Australia to promote local tourism further.

“Asians prefer group package tours, while Westerners tend to come individually and decide where to go after they arrive,” said Kyoko Inazumi, 53, head of Beppu International Plaza, which runs the tourist information office at Beppu Station.

To target such independent visitors, the Beppu Municipal Government has launched “Enjoy Onsen,” a website featuring blog posts on hot spring facilities in the city as well as tips on how to enjoy onsen.

Viewers can get recommendations on which onsen will suit them best by answering questions on topics such as their past visits to Japan and aspects of their trip that are important to them.

The Oita government is also considering issuing meal tickets that can be purchased mainly at tourist information offices and hotels, and used at multiple restaurants to buy recommended dishes at prearranged prices.

It is thought that such tickets would help reduce visitor concerns about payments and language problems, and encourage more of them to eat out.

According to Inazumi, individual travelers tend to prefer onsen and restaurants recommended as local favorites.

“Foreign visitors may need some courage to enter places popular with locals, but if they overcome this barrier they are likely to become repeat visitors,” Inazumi said.

“Visitors who have fallen in love with Beppu will relate their experiences to the people around them after returning home,” Inazumi said.

“Word of mouth is powerful,” she added. “The important thing is to offer every visitor a warm welcome.”