Japan: Demand for ryokans stagnant despite spike in arrivals

A guestroom in a ryokan in Yufu. Source: Shutterstock/POM POM

JAPAN’S ryokans (inns) are a source of immeasurable charm and are a window to life in the countryside.

But occupancy rates in ryokans rose by just two percent, according to a TTG Asia report based on statistics by Japan Tourism Agency (JTA). Ryokan numbers counter the surge in arrivals in the country leading up to the 2020 Olympics.

Japan Ryokan and Hotel Association (JRHA) managing director Hideyuki Sato told the publication: “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.”

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To boost bookings, Gem Japan Tours owner Yoshi Ogata said some property owners had implemented changes such as adding Western-style beds and chairs as well as installing WiFi services to attract more tourists.

An elaborate ryokan breakfast featuring rice, grilled fish, fried egg, soup, mentaiko, pickles, and seaweed. Source: Shutterstock

The JTA also plans to urge ryokan operators to introduce separate fees for stays and meals in order to meet demand for overseas visitors who might want a taste of restaurants outside the ryokan during their stay. Traditionally, ryokan packages include bedding and meals, but this was found to be limiting to some tourists.

The new fee-separation scheme could lower prices for those who want to opt out of meals; ryokans traditionally serve elaborate breakfasts and lavish kaiseki (multi-course) dinners.

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JTA said many tourists still preferred to center their stays in larger cities within the Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka route which – with the addition of Hiroshima – is known as the Golden Route. Visa relaxations and more budget airline routes have also increased access to larger cities.

On top of that, with the legalization of Airbnb and minpaku (home-sharing) options, tourists don’t have to splurge on expensive hotels. Japan is Airbnb’s biggest market in Asia Pacific, with claims the San Francisco-based company boosted the national economy by US$8.3 billion in 2016.