Japan to Market National Parks to Foreign, Wealthy Tourists

Courtesy of Hoshino Resorts Inc.
Oirase Keiryu Hotel offers guided tours that make the most of the surrounding nature.

The Environment Ministry is working on the branding of national parks in order to capitalize on Japan’s natural environment as a tourism resource.

In anticipation of increasing demand from foreign tourists, which dropped due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as from the wealthy, the ministry plans to select model areas by next spring where visitors can enjoy high-quality nature experiences while staying at a luxury hotel.

The ministry will soon select three to four candidate parks, which will be narrowed down to one or two by next spring. It will then decide on model areas within the selected parks and begin publicly soliciting businesses that invite lodging facilities to operate there. The goal is to make this first effort a success and apply it to the branding of national parks as a whole.

Under the national parks law — now the Natural Parks Law — enacted in 1931, the environment minister designates national parks that are to be conserved and managed by the central government in an effort to protect exceptional nature. There are currently 34 such parks throughout the nation. In 2016, the government positioned national parks as one of the pillars of its “Tourism Vision to Support the Future of Japan.”

Some say that many national parks in Japan have not been fully utilized as a tourism resource. In national parks in Europe and the United States, visitors can stay at luxury hotels and sign up for various nature experience programs.

In Japan, Hoshino Resorts’s Oirase Keiryu Hotel in Aomori Prefecture, located along the Oirase Gorge in Towada-Hachimantai National Park, offers guests guided tours of the gorge, where more than 300 species of moss grow wild. Such tours are popular with guests, the hotel said.

According to the ministry, the number of foreign tourists who visited national parks reached 6.67 million in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, compared to 4.9 million in 2015.

“Japan has not actively marketed its outstanding natural environment,” said Tomohiko Sawayanagi, a specially appointed professor of hotel management at Rikkyo University. “It is appropriate to utilize national parks as tourism resources in order to increase foreign tourism not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of quality.”