Despite surging arrivals, tepid demand for Japan’s ryokans

International tourists not warming up to ryokans

Japan’s ryokans are struggling to attract international tourists even as the country welcomes a record 2.3 million visitors in June 2017, up 18.2 per cent year-on-year.

While the hotel occupancy rate reached 75 per cent on average in 2015, up 12 per cent since 2011, the ryokan occupancy rate rose only two per cent to reach 37 per cent, according to the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA).

International tourists not warming up to ryokans

Hideyuki Sato, managing director of the Japan Ryokan and Hotel Association (JRHA), said: “There is little change in ryokan use nationwide because they are mostly in Japan’s regions and countryside, where tourists are not visiting. Japan’s regional charms are not well-known.”

According to JTA, nearly half of tourist stays in 2015 were concentrated in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, which together with Hiroshima are referred to as the Golden Route.

Moreover, tourists now have greater choice of accommodation and cheaper options with the rise of minpaku and Airbnb in the country.

To boost ryokan occupancy, JTA and JRHA are jointly promoting regional areas, while JRHA is educating members about government grants for ryokan owners to install Wi-Fi, modernise facilities and market in other languages.

Yoshi Ogata, owner of Gem Japan Tours, which uses only countryside ryokans, said some property owners have made adjustments, such as adding western-style beds and chairs, to attract more tourists.

Tara Kennaway, regional product manager Asia at Intrepid Travel, said: “Our travellers generally enjoy the authentic experience of staying in traditional-style accommodation. However, some older travellers or those with mobility issues may prefer to have a western-style room with beds and chairs…. Some also prefer to have private bathroom facilities, which not all ryokans offer.”

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