Business | Regional Voices: Hokkaido

Suspended resort plan forces Hokkaido city to rethink tourism strategy

Hokkaido Shimbun

Local businesses are despondent over a Tokyo investment fund’s recent decision to suspend a plan to build a large-scale resort in Tomakomai, Hokkaido — a plan that would lure tourists and create jobs for locals.

Since the city had high hopes for the project, along with a plan to construct a casino resort nearby, the suspension is expected to force Tomakomai to rethink its tourism and business strategies.

Tokyo-based investment fund MA Platform Inc. had planned to build the resort south of an “integrated resort” that also houses a casino. The plan was to construct luxury hotels and condominiums aimed at affluent foreign visitors on a plot of about 1,000 hectares, opening as early as 2023.

But the coronavirus pandemic poured cold water on the travel industry, forcing the investment fund to change its plans.

“It’s an understandable decision amid the coronavirus pandemic,’’ said Tomakomai Mayor Hirofumi Iwakura.

Tomakomai Mayor Hirofumi Iwakura says the decision is understandable, given the coronavirus crisis. | KYODO
Tomakomai Mayor Hirofumi Iwakura says the decision is understandable, given the coronavirus crisis. | KYODO

When Iwakura met with Akira Mori, chairman of Mori Trust Co. and owner of MA Platform, on June 26, Mori told him that he will revise the construction plan based on “the new normal,” under the premise that the investment fund will go through with the project.

Iwakura said the city doesn’t intend to change its stance, while an official at the city’s division in charge said it will continue to cooperate with the investment fund.

Despite the suspension, Hiroaki Fujita, who heads a local business association promoting Tomakomai’s resort project, said he still has high hopes for the resort project in creating jobs.

“I’m confident that they will go through with the plan after the coronavirus pandemic,” said Fujita. “I don’t think they are withdrawing the plan. I’m not worried.”

Tomakomai’s tourism association head Mineyuki Ichimachi, meanwhile, voiced his disappointment with the plan’s suspension.

“It’s very unfortunate. In Tomakomai, where tourism resources are scarce, a resort facility that would attract many customers is essential to the region,” said Ichimachi.

There is the possibility that the resort will be scaled back depending on how tourism demand will recover in the post-coronavirus world, but Ichimachi urged the resort operator to go ahead as planned.

“I hope they will proceed as planned. It will have a large economic impact on the region,” he said.

But Tomakomai city officials aren’t that optimistic.

“It will probably take two or three years before tourism demand will rebound. MA Platform’s plan will be affected for years,” a senior city official said.

The city had drafted a tourism strategy to lure tourists from outside Hokkaido via Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport directly to the casino resort as well as MA Platform’s resort hotels and condos. But that plan would need to be revised in the city’s revitalization plan to be compiled by March 2021.

A city assembly member from the opposition party criticized the city’s dependence on resort projects.

“An international resort project has already come down in pieces. The city needs to focus on city planning focusing on the region rather than attracting resorts,” they said.

This section features topics and issues from Hokkaido covered by the Hokkaido Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the prefecture. The original article was published on July 1.

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