Interview: Niseko today, the post COVID-19 vision, and investments from Japanese people stimulating diversity
The Niseko international resort area has entered into its second winter under the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is no hope for a resurgence of overseas tourists after the sudden drop, energetic real estate investment is continuing unabated. “H2 Group” is a real estate company in Kutchan that has engaged in development of the first condominium facilities for the Niseko area and launched into a business merger in November 2020 with a high-end accommodation facility managing company based in Hong Kong. We spoke to Simon Robinson (60), the president of “H2 Group”, about the current situation in the region and his vision for a post-pandemic Niseko.
Simon Robinson (60) Kutchan real estate company president
–––How is the real estate business doing since the pandemic started?
“The overall number of transactions is down, but business is much better than we originally envisioned it would be. The decrease in transactions has been stemmed at about a 25% loss compared to before the pandemic. Overseas investors cannot directly come to see properties locally, so there is a trend for popularity to center on comparatively inexpensive properties at 500,000 USD (approximately 57,000,000 JPY) and under in an effort to reduce risk. Customers are still mainly from Asian countries like Hong Kong.”
–––Amidst this pandemic, you entered a business merger with the Hong Kong company “HakuLife”. What was your aim?
“The Niseko market has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. When I built my first condominium in 2003, the customers were mainly Australians, and their main purpose was skiing. And what was needed were facilities that were commensurate to that purpose. Currently however, the demand for a higher standard of service has increased among the new core of Asian customers, and a cascade of high-end brand hotels like Park Hyatt are moving in. HakuLife has management knowhow for high-end accommodation facilities, and improving the service standard across the board from real estate selling to development and lodging was the aim of the merger.”
–––For tourism, there is no ease in sight for travel restrictions, and attracting customers is a continuing problem.
“We have been through other crises in the past, like the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy crisis and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The business environment is harsh right now, but you can also say that being stagnant has given us time to think about new ways to move forward. At our company, we are focusing on promotions aimed at Japanese people and expatriates (foreigners stationed or living in Japan) and energizing summer tourism opportunities like golf events. If we transition from the traditional resort model of focusing on foreign wintertime tourists to a philosophy of building domestic tourism demand and extending peak periods across the entire year, the attractiveness of the region will grow even more intense.”
–––How will Niseko change after the COVID-19 pandemic?
The thing to look at is the increase in Japanese people investing and domestic companies moving into the region during the pandemic. Over the past 20 years, large scale investments in the region backed by foreign capital have continued, and the growing trust in Niseko has resulted in it garnering attention as a new area to invest in. My hope is that domestic businesses joining the area and creating new markets here will start to develop a more diverse Niseko that revolves around more than just ‘resorts for foreigners’.”
Simon Robinson Profile: Born in 1960. Hails from Australia. Moved to Kutchan in 2003 and launched the real estate company “Hokkaido Tracks”. After a business merger, he has served in his current position since November 2020.
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