NISEKO, HOKKAIDO – With the Hokkaido tourism industry estimating losses of around ¥29 billion from the recent deadly earthquake, due to widespread hotel cancellations following the disaster, Niseko, a famous ski resort in the prefecture that escaped relatively unscathed from the quake, is seeking to promote its safety as it readies for its high season.
“Niseko did not suffer any serious damage … and electric power was back just one day after the quake, so we have not experienced many problems,” said Shunichiro Kawauchi, spokesman at Niseko Resort Tourist Association Co., during an interview with The Japan Times.
The quake rocked Hokkaido on Sept. 6, triggering a serious power shortage, with tremors in the southern part of the prefecture registering the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. But in Niseko, located about 100 kilometers west of the hardest-hit town of Atsuma, the earthquake was a level-four event. According to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, a total of 942,000 people had canceled their bookings for accommodation facilities in the prefecture as of Saturday, and the overall financial damage to its tourism industry, including the impact on restaurants and souvenir shops, is estimated to reach about ¥29.2 billion.
The loss stemming from hotel room cancellations alone is projected to reach about ¥11.7 billion. A total of 69,000 visitors have canceled theme and amusement park visits, while 22,000 have done the same for ferry and pleasure boat reservations and 4,000 have for tourist bus bookings.
According to the prefecture, the number of visitors has dropped not just in areas directly hit by the quake but across the island, partly due to the temporary closure of New Chitose Airport. Hokkaido received a record high of 56.1 million tourists in the previous fiscal year, which ended March 31. Niseko has seen many cancellations this month from domestic companies and municipal officials who were planning to tour the town, with most saying they should show “self-restraint” after the disaster, Kawauchi said. But as for foreign tourists, the association has not heard of “any cancellations or inquiries regarding quake damage so far” in relation to accommodation facilities, Kawauchi said.
The impact may have been limited because it is currently the off-season.
Kawauchi said he is worried about the possible spread of groundless rumors regarding the safety of Niseko, which is about 30 km from Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plant, such as through comments posted on its official Facebook page.
“We have received some very sensitive comments regarding the Tomari nuclear power plant and its effect on Niseko, despite the fact that there was no damage to the plant in the first place,” said Kawauchi. “We are currently discussing how to handle such unsubstantiated rumors and their effect on the Niseko tourism industry.”
The association is thinking of temporarily closing the commentary feature on its Facebook page, he said.
Luke Sandalls, the brand and marketing manager of MnK, which provides accommodations to numerous foreign visitors in Niseko, said he has not received any cancellations from foreign tourists and that its hotels and cottages have been operating as usual.
“The first day, when the blackout occurred, we started our own emergency power generators, so there were no problems,” he said.
In a sign that Niseko is not slowing down ahead of its peak tourism season, the town is now filled with an abundance of orange pumpkins donated by local farmers. The pumpkins have been positioned at every corner and alongside many roads in preparation for the annual Niseko Halloween event.
“We will hold our usual Halloween event on Oct. 6,” Kawauchi said. “I want to deliver the message to people outside of Hokkaido that Niseko is safe and ready to welcome guests for upcoming winter season holiday events.”
Information from Kyodo added