• Chugoku Shimbun


Desperate to make up for the dramatic fall in numbers of overseas tourists visiting during the pandemic, Japanese inns in a city in Hiroshima Prefecture are getting creative in their appeals to a broader clientele, tapping into demand for “workations” and casual day trips.

Small hotels in the city of Hatsukaichi have been hit hard by the sharp decline in tourists, which were their main customer base in the pre-pandemic era. Among them is Miyajima Guest House Mikuniya, which has been banking on demand for workations — a term coined from “work” and “vacation,” in which employees telework from wherever they are traveling for enjoyment — since spring last year.

The inn has now registered itself with a website specializing in such travel, opening itself up to attention from the site’s subscribers who can stay at as many member hotels as they like during a certain period of time for a fixed monthly fee.

Having tapped into the desire from some workers to simultaneously work and vacation, the service has so far successfully arranged for a dozen people, including company employees in the greater Tokyo area and freelancers, to stay at Mikuniya.

Tokyo-based internet consultant Genta Yoshizawa, 34, is one such customer. He first visited Mikuniya in early November and stayed there for about a month. Although it would have normally cost ¥120,000, the service essentially reduced the price of his accommodation to ¥50,000.

“I was initially going to stay just for a few days, but I had such a nice view of the island and the staff were so hospitable that I ended up staying much longer than I expected,” he said with satisfaction.

Ajinatei, also located in Hatsukaichi city, is trying a different tack. Since October, the spacious one-story house has been rented during the day, primarily as a venue for luncheons by neighbors or for photo shoots by newlywed couples.

The location is available for up to 12 people between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and is priced at ¥44,000. As an extra option, chefs can also be arranged to provide meals. The luxurious house hopes these new services will attract casual visitors on day trips and lead to overnight stays.

Behind this growing trend toward business diversification is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dealt a devastating blow to many of these guest houses.

The Go To Travel subsidy campaign run by the government, which was hailed by some as helping revive the tourism industry, didn’t do much to benefit these cheaply priced inns, prompting them to seek other ways to regain profitability.

Stepping out of its comfort zone, Guesthouse Kichi in the city is not just providing visitors with accommodation but is also organizing weekend tours. Since late November, the facility has teamed up with a local pleasure boat company to organize tours cruising around Itsukushima island in Hiroshima Bay, as well as hiring professional photographers to hold free photo sessions.

In January, a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections forced these events to be canceled, but Mayumi Endo, owner of Guesthouse Kichi, was undeterred.

“I can’t be sad about this forever,” she said. “I will come up with even more attractive ideas for tours that we can promote after infections have subsided.”

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on Jan. 31.

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