National

Hokkaido quake spurs mass hotel booking cancellations, tourist spot closings

by Chisato Tanaka and Sarah Suk

Staff Writers

Hokkaido, a popular tourist destination, was hit by a wave of hotel cancellations from tourists in the capital city of Sapporo and other areas, as a powerful earthquake rocked the northernmost island Thursday morning, causing water pipes to burst and triggering a massive power outage.

Companies that have factories in the prefecture, including Toyota Motor Corp., have also scrambled to gather information and assess damage to facilities after the temblor, which had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7, struck southern Hokkaido at 3:08 a.m.

“The water supply has completely stopped and there’s no power, so all of the systems are down and we can’t process reservations,” said Nobuyoshi Fujiwara, a front desk clerk at Sapporo Tokyu REI Hotel. “We are asking people checking in today to cancel their reservations, but for those who insist on staying we will provide rooms as long as they are available.”

“We can’t get any work done unless the electricity is restored,” he added. The hotel had a large part of its 902 rooms occupied, with dozens of them by foreign guests.

A clerk at five-star hotel Royton Sapporo said it has received more than 50 cancellations, with the number expected to grow.

Hokkaido received a total of around 56.1 million tourists in the year through March 2018. The number of foreign tourists hit a record high of 2.3 million in fiscal 2016, accounting for 9.3 percent of the total foreign travelers to Japan.

A staffer at Hilton Niseko Village said the establishment, located in a ski resort area popular with foreign tourists, has not been able to get a full grasp of how many people have canceled because the reservation system is out of service.

“We heard from agents that some guests from overseas have canceled, and several South Korean travelers contacted us saying their flights (to Hokkaido) were grounded,” she said.

The hotel, operating on backup power, checked the safety of all guests by going around the rooms one by one and made an in-house announcement in four languages — Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese — at around 5 a.m. assuring guests that there was no damage to the facility.

Another hotel, One Niseko Resort Towers, indicated that the damage it suffered was relatively minor, with a clerk saying that it only found broken dishes at its restaurant on the 10th floor.

The owner of Lodge Moiwa 834 in Niseko, meanwhile, quickly hung up, saying he needs to save the battery on his mobile phone.

The quake also forced some tourist spots in the Hokkaido capital to close Thursday, including the former Hokkaido government office building (also known as the Red Brick Office), the North Safari Sapporo and the Sapporo TV Tower.

“We’ve had prospective visitors contacting us to see if we’re open, and some people from places such as Tokyo called saying they want to know what the situation in Sapporo is like,” said a public relations officer at Sapporo TV Tower. “But we are out of electricity, so the only information we have is what we hear on the radio.”

The power outage also forced many firms to stop operations and stores to close.

Toyota halted daytime operations at its subsidiary’s transmission manufacturing plant in Tomakomai. The company said it has not decided whether to reopen the factory on Thursday evening.

Among retailers, convenience store operator Lawson Inc. closed about half of its more than 600 stores in Hokkaido, and Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co. and some other department store operators temporarily closed outlets in the prefecture.

Aeon Co., meanwhile, kept about 40 supermarkets open in Hokkaido, selling water and food.

Japan Post Co. said it has stopped Yu-Pack parcel deliveries to Hokkaido, adding that it expects parcel and mail deliveries in the region will be delayed significantly.

Oil distributor Idemitsu Kosan Co. has suspended gasoline shipments at its refinery in Tomakomai due to the power outage.

Hokkaido Bank, also hit by the blackout, managed to open 27 branches at 9 a.m. as usual out of the 140 it operates in the region, while Kirin Brewery Co. canceled a tour at its plant in Chitose on Thursday.

Information from Kyodo added