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New scheme aims to drive traffic to Hokkaido's rural regions
Kathryn Wortley, Tokyo, September 29, 2016

TRAVELLERS to Hokkaido’s rural regions will receive discounts on accommodation, shopping, dining, and activities under a new pilot scheme run by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). 


Available from October 1 to November 30, the Hokkaido Driving Coupons scheme is designed to boost travel to central and eastern areas of the island, which are difficult to access by train or bus.


Cottages in Hokkaido


“About 10 per cent of Japan’s arrivals visit Hokkaido, but their economic impact does not extend to rural regions,” said a spokesperson for MLIT, adding that in fiscal 2015, 72.6 per cent of tourists stayed in urban areas, while 7.6 per cent stayed in rural areas.


Tourists can register for the scheme at Hokkaido’s car rental offices or tourist information centers, and then exchange coupons for free items or discounts.


Watanabe Experience Farm, a participating facility, has had increasing numbers of visitors from Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years, according to Iori Watanabe, a staff at the farm.


But she is keen for more people to see the beautiful place where she lives. “We offer very rare experiences,” she said, pointing out that visitors can milk cows as well as make ice-cream and butter.


Another participant and business owner, Yasuyo Goda, also wants to welcome more overseas guests to her youth hostel and café Shiokari Huette. Located deep in a forest, its clientele are mostly domestic tourists who want to “photograph the railway, enjoy the tranquillity, or do activities such as hiking,” she said.


After running Hokkaido Driving Coupons in fiscal 2016 and 2017, the MLIT plans to analyse feedback and discuss plans for private sector groups to offer the scheme in the future.

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