Hotels distributed to boost local economies and entertain guests

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Comprised of old houses and townhouses that dot an area around the majestic Ozu Castle in Ehime Prefecture, Nipponia Hotel Ozu Castle Town opened in July 2020 in Ozu.

The farthest accommodation facility is 500 meters from the hostel reception, meaning many guests pass by shops and boutiques for local delicacies and other items while commuting between their rooms and reception.

Upon check-in, all guests receive “passports” that help them discover local outlets and restaurants. Customers are entitled to special offers at the recommended locations if they present the passport there, such as a free cup of coffee.

“We will continue to deepen regional cooperation from now on to preserve the urban landscape,” said Yosuke Inoue, president of Kita, a property development company in Ozu, which helped renovate accommodation facilities.

Such a style of scattered hotels is a growing trend across Japan.

Traditional townhouses and older homes are being renovated into accommodations to preserve regional landscapes while enticing guests to visit nearby sights, increasing spending in the area.

It is expected that such a unique hostel can help local economies.

The Ozu hostel has reportedly operated at 30 to 40 percent of originally planned capacity since it opened, with accommodation fees ranging from 20,000 yen ($146) to 40,000 yen.

The 30-40% occupancy rate apparently means that investments can be amortized in 10-15 years.

Eight rooms in five buildings were included in the hotel’s accommodation listing in April this year, meaning that 28 rooms in 22 buildings are currently available.

Similar facilities were set up earlier this year in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture; outside of Tokyo; and Kunigami of Okinawa Prefecture, while 150 old houses have so far been converted into accommodation facilities or souvenir shops in 28 regions.

Koo Otsu Hyakucho began its services in Otsu in 2018, enjoying seven townhouses along a shopping street and elsewhere.

Leaflets are distributed to visitors at local restaurants and other outlets. A visit to a shopping district is also offered free of charge in the morning and in the evening.

Although Otsu once thrived as a post office, 10% of the town’s 1,500 homes were reportedly left vacant before the novel coronavirus pandemic began.

Hirokazu Taniguchi, chairman of Taniguchi Komuten, a contractor from Shiga Prefecture, which built Koo Otsu Hyakucho, said scattered housing can breathe new life into declining areas.

“The project should serve as a model for revitalizing a shopping street,” Taniguchi said.

A similar move is underway to bring the community back to life along a rural railroad with a scattered hotel.

An area around the unstaffed Hatonosu Station in Okutama on the JR Ome Line, which crosses the western mountains of Tokyo, is being redeveloped into a dispersed hotel.

The station building is to be used as a reception area for the project, which aims to convert “all areas along the track into housing”.

Satoyume Co., a consulting firm in Tokyo that works on local revitalization and other goals, and East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), are behind the plan.

The envisioned hotel is expected to open in fiscal year 2023 and involves the renovation of former private homes in the neighborhood.

Of the 13 stations along the Ome-Okutama section of the JR Ome Line, 11 have no staff deployed, which includes the Hatonosu station. The attraction of tourists should help bolster ridership levels on the railway.

“By creating a sustainable business, we will raise the profile of areas along the line,” said Shunpei Shimada, chairman of Satoyume.

East Japan Railway Co. seeks to open dispersed hotels by 2040 in 30 locations for which it is responsible.

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