Royal meets Rural: One Sendai Hotel’s Inbound Tourism Strategy

“How do we attract more tourists?” continues to be the big question asked by government agencies, tourism and travel companies, restaurants and finally major hotels here in Japan.

Several of the major luxury hotels here in Sendai, such as Metropolitan, Westin, and Kokusai Hotel, already boast high level service and partial, or complete, multilingual websites with multilingual staff, in addition to their excellent facilities. These hotels are also quite famous for their restaurants, which would be expected of any luxury hotel in the world. But what really sets these hotels apart from each other?

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While each are sure to have valid points to argue, one luxury hotel in Sendai is setting itself apart by combining the comfort of staying at a luxury hotel with the raw experience of rural nature, farming, and adventure.

Sendai Royal Park Hotel opened in 1995 with the theme of a European Manor. It appears almost castle-like in appearance, with an elegant interior and property-wide outside garden. Its location is both a blessing and a curse for tourism. Freeway access and the adjacent Izumi Premium Outlet shopping mall make this a great pitstop for those coming by car. However, while there is a free shuttle from Sendai Station, tourists from abroad are tempted to stay at more central hotels in the city center.

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In fact, Royal Park Hotel is on the border of Sendai’s suburbs and Izumi Ward’s farm country. And for this reason, as of last year, the hotel has started creating outdoor activities and programs specifically to attract international visitors– something other Sendai luxury hotels here have not yet started or simply can’t because of their confined location.

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Strawberry or mushroom picking, a cycle tour through rice fields and forest to a hidden waterfall, stargazing, and wintertime snowshoe trekking are starting to put the hotel on the radar of travelers. Another well-known program is “glamping” or “glamorous camping”. Think top quality cuisine paired with fine wine enjoyed inside a tent lit by a miniature chandelier. This was one of the activities introduced by Sendai-based YouTuber Chris Broad through his video “What does a $3000 Japanese Hotel Room look like?“, uploaded August 2017. The video has amassed over 910,000 views.

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Olga Zielińska, a Sendai resident with experience in Tohoku region travelling and tour guiding, recently tried the half-day cycling program. She remarked: “This is what none of the big metropolis in Japan have. The calm countryside of Sendai, lunch with fresh locally grown ingredients, the real traditional Japan experience within one hour drive from the city center, and, more importantly, without overwhelming crowds. Cycling along creeks and rice paddies while enjoying the view of Mt. Izumi, and later coming back for English-style teatime at the hotel was the perfect ending of an incredible stay at the hotel”

Director of the hotel, Katsuhiko Kasai, made it clear that that he wants to work together with locals and make sure they are happy during promotion efforts. He was surprised with the responses so far: “Farmers welcome us with waves and smiles, and once a tour group was flagged down and given freshly made sweets by a housewife! Sometimes our tours do lunch with farmers that have prepared rice balls from the same fields we cycle through!”. He also emphasized he wants participants to think about where their food comes from and to appreciate nature on a deeper level.

As the hotel has fewer rooms than other major hotels in Sendai, travel site reviews and word-of-mouth is challenging as there are just fewer guests compared with other hotels who are sharing their experiences. However, as Royal Park Hotel tours are also open for people in Sendai just visiting for the day, and there is a global trend in tourism for experiences over destinations, time will tell if such inbound tourism strategy will work—and how other hotels in Sendai will react. In the grand scheme of things, competition is good for business, especially when that business is promoting our city Sendai.

As reported by guest-writer Justin Velgus. Justin is an American who currently works with the Fukushima Prefectural Government but loves to explore Tohoku. He enjoys cycling and onsen and you can definitely treat him with gyozas!

A few additional comments were added by Manuel Campos. Manuel was born and brought up in Venezuela and is currently serving as the Managing Editor of ‘The Sentinel’.

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