As soon as you can travel with impunity…
Prices for lodging facilities such as “hotels” and “ryokans” in Japan are now skyrocketing across the board. The main reason is the resumption of inbound travel to Japan, in addition to the fact that the new type of coronavirus infection has been moved to “category 5” since May 8 this year, and travel restrictions have been removed.
Since about the same time, we have often heard people say that hotels in Japan are too expensive to stay in. During this year’s summer vacation period, businesspeople who are forced to stay in hotels for business trips are also voicing their concerns. The “National Travel Assistance” program, which offered travel at a discount, is scheduled to end at the end of June in 39 prefectures. In the future, Chinese tourists are expected to flood back into Japan, which will make hotels in Japan even more expensive.
In this article, we will introduce the latest situation of domestic travel, including the current situation of hotel prices going up across the board, the movements during and after this year’s summer vacation, and the opinions of travel industry experts who say that there are still “secret ways” to save money on lodging.
COVID-19 crisis “1.5 to 2 times” more expensive than usual…
First, let us introduce some examples of hotel prices during the summer vacation period this year (2011).
(Example) Sapporo, July 29-30 (1 night), 2 persons per room *”Google Hotels” as of June 10
- JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo 46,018 yen
- Dormy Inn PREMIUM Sapporo 27,000 yen
- Tokyu Stay Sapporo 26,200 yen
- Hotel JAL City Sapporo Nakajima Koen 25,760 yen
- Sapporo Grand Hotel 25,560 yen
- Comfort Hotel Sapporo Susukino 24,038 yen
- JR East Hotel Mets Sapporo: 21,395 yen
- Sapporo Washington Hotel Plaza 16,715 yen
In Sapporo, there is demand for business as well as sightseeing. Single rooms for one person are sometimes half of the above prices, but still cost around 10,000 yen per night or even more.
Incidentally, the author (Shikama Aki) stayed at the Sapporo Washington Hotel Plaza on a weekend in late July last year. The difference in price is not so big if the difference is only a few thousand yen per night, but the difference is huge if you stay several nights in a row.
More hotel openings to come, but only in price ranges that are unaffordable to the average person
In Japan, a rush of hotel openings has been continuing since just before Corona. In Kyoto, a popular destination not only among visitors to Japan but also within Japan, the hotels scheduled to open in the summer of 2011 or later will be four- to five-star hotels called “luxury hotels,” such as the Six Senses Kyoto and Capella Kyoto.
For example, the DoubleTree by Hilton Kyoto Higashiyama, scheduled to open on August 8, ’23, starts at 23,940 yen per room per night. Including taxes, the price is 29,957 yen. This is an early bird discount for Hilton Honors members and is a “non-cancelable” price. Incidentally, the Doubletree by Hilton brand is positioned as a four-star Hilton business hotel, and at about 30,000 yen per room, the price seems a bit high, even for Kyoto City.
In addition, there is a rush of hotel openings in central Tokyo. The Bulgari Hotel Tokyo, which opened in April of this year, has become a hot topic with prices starting at 250,000 yen per night. Even so, there is reportedly a waiting list for available rooms.
None of the hotels, whether in Tokyo or Kyoto, are primarily targeting the average Japanese. With Japan’s average annual income not having risen in the past 30 years since the bursting of the bubble economy in the 1990s, and the rush to raise prices of everyday items and inflation, even several tens of thousands of yen per night would be difficult for many people to afford.
COVID-19 crisis offered “GoTo Travel,” “Prefectural Discount,” and “National Travel Support,” making it possible to travel in Japan at a very reasonable price. Moreover, even if the price of lodging went up slightly, the respective discounts offset the increase. The loss of these discounts has made travelers feel that they are paying a premium.
There is another reason for the soaring hotel prices,” said an expert from a trade newspaper.
Are inbound travelers the only reason for soaring hotel prices in Japan? We interviewed Kazuyuki Tomimoto, editor-in-chief of “Travel News at,” a newspaper specializing in the tourism industry.
He said, “As travel demand began to return due to GoTo Travel and nationwide travel support, inns and hotels across the country simultaneously raised their room rates. And now, even though discounts are no longer available, once they raise the price, it is hard to lower it. There is another reason for this. There is a serious ‘labor shortage’ at lodging facilities.”
The COVID-19 crisis caused a series of temporary hotel closures, and not a few people left the hotels or changed jobs from the travel industry to other industries. Even when demand for travel returns, wages are not high to begin with, and the pace at which people return to the front lines, where hard labor is required, is said to be quite slow.
In order to secure human resources, it is necessary to raise wages, which means that accommodation rates must be raised,” he said. This is especially true in urban areas. Inbound travelers feel a sense of affordability due to the weak yen, and rooms are filled even at high prices for Japanese travelers.
However, the current situation is not good for Japanese people in the long run, as it is becoming difficult not only for overseas travel (which is still difficult due to the weak yen and high airfares), but also for domestic travel.
How to enjoy domestic travel at a fraction of the cost…
There is a strong possibility that Chinese tourists will resume full-scale travel to Japan after the summer vacation, when travel restrictions have been removed. With even domestic travel becoming more difficult, is there any way to go cheaply?
According to Editor-in-Chief Tomimoto, “The target is not urban areas, but regions where inbound travelers have yet to arrive.
I recommend regions where direct flights from overseas are not available or have not yet resumed. Compared to the rising cost of lodging, rail and air fares, high speeds, and gasoline prices have not risen that much.
Larkation Day” in Aichi Prefecture, where children can miss school on weekdays and not be counted as absent.
In Japan, vacations are concentrated during the peak season and on weekends. On the other hand, weekdays are often cheaper and more convenient. The structure of Japanese society itself is the reason why people cannot take off work or school on weekdays, and Aichi Prefecture will be the first prefecture in Japan to take a scalpel to this problem this year.
Aichi Prefecture will introduce “LARCATION Day” in 53 municipalities in the prefecture, excluding Nagoya City. The term “La-Cation Day” was coined by combining the words “learning” and “vacation,” and is a system under which children are not treated as absent even if they are absent from school on weekdays that coincide with their guardians’ weekday off days. Aichi Prefecture aims to increase the number of days per year to two days after September this year and three days next year. All prefectural high schools, all special-needs schools, and all elementary and junior high schools in 19 cities and towns are subject to this system.
The fact that Japanese people’s vacations will be spread out and they can travel on weekdays is very good for the domestic travel industry,” said Editor-in-Chief Tomimoto.
People working in hotels and inns have a somewhat unstable work environment, being busy during the peak season and having no work during the off-season. When this becomes mostly stable throughout the year, the employment environment improves and it becomes easier for people to stay in their jobs.
For many Japanese, if it becomes easier to take weekdays off without hesitation, they will be able to enjoy travel at a lower cost than during the peak season.
The current situation in Japan, with a weak yen and inflation, is not likely to change anytime soon. If this is the case, it will be necessary to change travelers’ awareness by changing the style of travel itself, for example, by shifting destinations to regions with fewer inbound tourists or by shifting vacations from the peak season.
Interview and text by： Shikama Aki