Hokkaido ski resorts see increase in local visitors despite pandemic
Although visitors from overseas and outside the prefecture have dropped significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of ski resorts in Hokkaido are seeing many local skiers this season, with some even experiencing an increase in such guests compared with the average year.
Given the perception of skiing as a safe outdoor activity carrying a low chance of COVID-19 infection, families who are hesitant to travel far are apparently skiing in their local area. Ski resort operators are not only focusing on strengthening precautions against the coronavirus but are also offering services targeting local residents.
Sanlaiva, a ski resort in the city of Noboribetsu, saw a 14% increase in the number of people using its lifts compared with last year, welcoming a total of 207,000 people as of Feb. 21. The proportion of overseas visitors to the resort was actually relatively low even before the pandemic, so it is the number of guests from the Iburi area, who usually account for the majority, that is on the rise.
“It seems that people see skiing as a low-risk activity in terms of infections, which makes them less anxious,” said Yoshio Sato, manager of Sanlaiva. Attempts to attract more young people, including reducing the cost of a lift pass by half to ¥1,200 per day, have been successful.
In Sapporo, local guests have also provided steady revenue even during the pandemic. Sapporo Bankei Ski Area in Chuo Ward experienced a 10% increase in lift users in December and January compared with the same period a year before. In an effort to boost local guests this season, the resort has set the price for night skiing at ¥2,000, a ¥200 discount from the original price. This option has been popular for those who work during the day and prefer to ski at night, according to a staff member in charge.
The same trend can be seen at other skiing areas within Hokkaido. The decrease in overseas visitors and domestic travelers from outside Hokkaido has hit Sapporo Teine in Teine Ward hard, since that demographic accounted for about 30% of all guests. Yet thanks to an increase in local visitors, the facility has seen as many guests as an average year on weekends.
“I came here to exercise because we can’t do so if we stay home all the time, and traveling far is not an option due to the coronavirus concerns,” said Mayumi Kajiwara, a resident of Teine Ward who was skiing with her two children.
Remaining cautious about the virus, Sapporo Teine is taking different precautions such as setting up temperature sensors as well as disinfecting gondolas. At the same time, though, it is offering some programs to attract local visitors, including events for families as well as ski lessons for young skiers this month. It will also keep its night time operation open in April, even though it usually ends in March.
Ski resorts in other areas are also targeting attracting local visitors. Hoshino Resort Tomamu in Shimukappu, for instance, has launched a one-day bus round trip plan from Sapporo that includes lifts, lunch and access to hot springs.
“Spending time a short distance away in a safe, reassuring manner, I want people to know the charms of their local area by coming here,” said the staff member in charge.
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