New Bus Services Ferry Foreign Skiers From Hakuba In Search of Restaurants

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The Yomiuri Shimbun

To make up for the shortage of restaurants in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, a place visited by many foreign skiers, dinnertime shuttle bus services have started between Hakuba and the center of Omachi and Otari in the prefecture, as well as between Hakuba and Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture.

The aim is to enhance the appeal of ski resorts by responding to the needs of foreign tourists who like to go out for dinner, and bring economic benefits to neighboring municipalities as well as Hakuba.

There are five ski resorts, including Hakuba Happo-One, in Hakuba, where some venues were used for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. The number of foreign skiers who visit Hakuba — mainly from Australia — has increased year after year, with about 77,724 people visiting in 2014. There are more than 300 accommodation facilities in Hakuba.

As tourists from Europe and the United States prefer to go out for dinner rather than eat at their accommodations, the about 30 restaurants in Hakuba are always fully booked during the peak period. There has been concern, therefore, about many tourists having difficulties finding a place to eat.
The Hakuba village government and other organizations asked a local bus company to operate shuttle bus services connecting Hakuba to Omachi and Otari. The buses started running on Dec. 23 last year.

Traveling between Hakuba and Omachi or Otari takes about 45 minutes, and costs ¥300 to ¥500. The village government and other organizations prepared leaflets to introduce restaurants offering Japanese foods, such as nabe hot pot dinners.

Omachi and Otari also have ski resorts, but fewer foreign tourists go there than Hakuba, which has a high profile internationally.
An official of the Omachi City Tourism Association said: “I expect the shuttle bus services to help boost our name recognition. I’d like to make the services one of our new key strategies to attract tourists.”

The three municipalities and the Nagano prefectural government will make up for the bus services’ losses, and the buses will run every night through Feb. 15.

Itoigawa, which faces the Sea of Japan, has also focused on foreign tourists’ demand for restaurant fare. It takes about one hour to reach Itoigawa from Hakuba.

The Itoigawa city government started the Itoigawa Seafood Shuttle Bus service in cooperation with the Junior Chamber International Itoigawa on Jan. 6. The bus leaves Hakuba at 4:30 p.m. and arrives at Itoigawa Station at 5:50 p.m. on the same day. It departs from Itoigawa at 9 p.m. and arrives in Hakuba at 10:10 p.m.

A one-way trip is ¥500, and service is available on Wednesdays and Thursdays until Feb. 11.

Sixteen people, including foreign tourists, got off the bus in front of Itoigawa Station on Jan. 6, and were welcomed by members of the chamber and others with local sake. The foreign tourists accepted restaurant leaflets from them with a smile.

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