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The Yunoyama hot spring resort in the town of Komono, Mie Prefecture, hit hard by the spread of COVID-19 infections, is trying to find a way forward by focusing on attracting visitors from within the prefecture.

A quiet retreat for visitors from the Tokai and Kansai regions, the resort is now looking to individual travelers rather than group tourists and is exploring new sources of demand, such as the so-called workation — a combination of work and a vacation.

Kibousou, a popular inn in Yunoyama which reopened in early June after shutting down for a month, has sanitizers placed at various sites inside the building and a number of posters put up asking guests to wear face masks and sanitize their hands.

To avoid close contact between guests, the inn reduced the number of people who can stay in each of its guestrooms and also slashed the number of seats at its restaurant.

The inn’s sales dropped 65 percent in June from a year before, and halved in July.

“We have to think of what we can do amid the coronavirus pandemic and come up with ways to get the economy going in the prefecture while taking extra care in terms of safety,” said Kibousou President Tomohiro Mochizuki.

The inn’s staff set up plastic screens by themselves to help shield against the virus, as well as designing promotional flyers, to help cut costs as much as possible.

A plastic screen is set up at a gift shop counter of Kibousou, an inn in the Yunoyama hot spring resort in Komono, Mie Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN
A plastic screen is set up at a gift shop counter of Kibousou, an inn in the Yunoyama hot spring resort in Komono, Mie Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

After the reopening, the inn started a day trip plan for local residents, offering a room at ¥5,670 — a pun for “corona zero” in Japanese — with no bathing charges and a half-price fee for hot air bathing. Around 40 groups consisting of some 100 people used the plan in a month.

“Since we cannot expect to have group tourists, we are now being put to the test as to how attentive we can be in attending to each of our guests,” Mochizuki said. “We want to keep on going, learning through trial and error.”

The streets in Komono are lined with banners bearing messages such as “We can beat the coronavirus!” The Komono Municipal Government started providing subsidies to hotel operators in the town, and while most of the inns were closed in May, many of them reopened in June and July.

Many accommodation facilities were fully booked during the four-day holiday in July, but few reservations are made on weekdays and for August and after, according to an association of hot spring resorts in Yunoyama.

“We are having more guests compared with the springtime, but the number of visitors has not recovered to the previous level,” an association official said.

The government launched its Go To Travel campaign at the end of July, but the official said, “I feel the effects of the campaign haven’t yet reached this area.”

There are moves to encourage the local tourism industry to promote workations, the concept of enjoying a vacation while working remotely from hotels and resorts.

In June, Komono’s tourism association presented to local tourism operators a post-pandemic strategy, including workations and the introduction of self-driving vehicles that would make it easier for visitors to move around the town.

“We believe the coming trend will be for people who have been traveling abroad to start enjoying short trips to nearby places within the country,” said Goro Furuta, who heads the association.

“We will first aim for local people to visit the town and will provide more convenient ways of moving around the town, including electric bicycles,” Furuta said. “We hope Komono will be the forerunner in proceeding with the new tourism strategy in the prefecture.”

Although the schedule was delayed from its original plan, new facilities are opening in the town, including a museum dedicated to a 1970 film of the popular series “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” filmed in Yunoyama, as well as Sosuikyo, a luxury hotel at the hot spring resort complex Aqua Ignis.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 3.

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