National

Tourist associations and lodgings in Hakone strive to minimize volcanic alert's impact on business

JIJI

Tourist associations and lodgings in Hakone are striving to minimize damage to the popularity of the spa resort town in Kanagawa Prefecture after the Meteorological Agency raised the volcanic alert for Mount Hakone a week ago.

The alert level was raised May 19 by one point to 2 on a 5-point scale, meaning access to areas around the crater was restricted. The agency suggested that an eruption was possible at or around the Owakudani volcanic valley.

In 2015, when the volcanic alert level for the mountain was raised to 3 banning access to the mountain, the number of tourists visiting the town plummeted by around 20 percent from the previous year as the area’s image took a hit. It took nearly two years after volcanic activity had calmed for the annual tourist count to return to 20 million amid fears the area remained dangerous.

After determining that local tourist associations, hotels and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) had communicated with visitors in a problematic manner, the local tourism industry reviewed its public relations strategy to minimize the impact of a rise in the alert level.

“Because each accommodation facility responded to inquiries individually (four years ago), some of the information was inaccurate, and this led to unnecessary confusion,” recalled Mamoru Sato, an executive with the Hakone Tourist Association.

Learning from its mistakes, the association has strengthened its information-gathering and communication capabilities.

It has set up a system for seamless consultations with the prefectural and municipal governments in the event of increased volcanic activity and for providing accurate information obtained via the consultations to inns, hotels and other facilities.

The association has improved its website to provide more detailed information and has also created an English-language site.

Although the latest alert has only had a mild affect on tourism, including the suspension of Hakone Ropeway operations and sales of Owakudani’s popular black boiled eggs, the website has posted information about alternative means of transportation and other tourist attractions that have been unaffected by the raised alert.

“There are many tourist attractions in Hakone other than Owakudani,” Sato said. “We’ll do our best so that tourists will come to Hakone feeling safe.”

So far, the raised alert has had no major adverse effect on the local tourism industry.

“The reaction from our guests at accommodation facilities has been mostly calm,” said Yoichi Tamura, a senior official with the Hakone Gora tourist association. “We’ll continue to provide our guests with accurate information.”

One local shop owner said the impact of the fresh alert had been minimal.

“The overall reaction is calmer than four years ago,” the owner said. “I think the impact will die down in a couple of weeks.”