Trend: Budget travel opportunities in Japan

10/21/2011
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TOKYO (majirox news) — Travelers are heading back to Japan, but travelers with deep pockets seem few and far between.

Malcolm Thompson, the general manager of the Peninsula Hotel in Tokyo says that while business travelers are much in evidence, the type of free-wheeling and free-spending guests the Peninsula relies on are sparse on the ground.

“The number of corporate travelers is almost the same as last year,” says Thompson, “but there is about a 95% drop in leisure travelers, and it’s the leisure travelers who book out suites.”

He added that when the tourists do come to Japan, they go to places like Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka, rather than Tokyo.

The Peninsula has a 61% occupancy rate in October, mainly of corporate travelers, compared to a 71% occupancy rate in October of last year.

Eugene Yamashita, who owns Ampac Tours in Seattle and specializes in arranging individual and group tours to Japan and China, agrees with Thompson.

“We’re seeing some revival of interest,” Yamashita says, “but much of our activity seems to be business travel related, and at least in the higher-end, group and individual tours to Japan still haven’t recovered since the earthquake, subsequent tsunami and nuclear crisis.”

Perhaps it’s a matter of cost.

Kisabuto Minato of Kimi Ryokan

“We ran occupancy rates of over 90% through much of September and now into October,” says Kisabuto Minato, owner of Kimi Ryokan. Lonely Planet called the Kimi Ryokan, “the best place to stay in Tokyo for budget travelers.”

Minato added that when Fukushima occurred, they cut their prices deeply, as did the other budget hotels near them. Prices at Kimi start at 4,000 yen ($52) a night.

“Even with the very costly exchange rate, accommodation in Japan has never been cheaper,” he says. “There are bargains everywhere, including Kimi.”

A short stroll through a neighborhood in Tokyo where there are several other budget hotels, such as House Ikebukuro and the Chang Tee Inn, some of which cater specifically to Taiwanese travelers, shows prices are down and bookings are up. Everywhere is nearly full.

“Despite some lingering concerns about Fukushima, and the concern everyone has over the world economy, there has probably never been a better time to visit Japan,” Minato says. “Everything is still beautiful and rooms are now very cheap.”

That is, if you can find a place at one of Tokyo’s budget hotels.

“We were so booked up last week,” Minato said, “that I had to give up my own room to some last-minute travelers and sleep in the office.”

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