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Business trends

Hotels follow foreign tourists into Japan's smaller towns

Lodgings in newly popular areas to be staffed by multilinguists

A tourist feeds deer in Nara, one of the destinations outside Tokyo that are gaining popularity among repeat visitors to Japan. (Photo by Kazuma Koyasu)

OSAKA/TOKYO -- As more tourists in Japan step off the beaten path, new hotels tailored for foreign visitors are coming to smaller cities once considered just a blip on the radar.

The number of tourists returning to the country has more than tripled over the past five years, prompting more sightseeing at lesser-known destinations.

Foreign visitors staying outside of Japan's three largest metropolitan areas -- greater Tokyo, greater Nagoya and the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe triangle -- accounted for more than 40% of the total for the first time last year. While guests in the three areas grew 12%, those outside increased 19%, the Japan Tourism Agency says.

In hopes of capturing the growing demand, Daiwa House Industry will launch a new hotel brand through subsidiary Daiwa Resort, expecting about half of its guests to be from abroad. It will hire employees from overseas to build a staff capable of speaking about five languages altogether.

Daiwa House plans to open a 180-room hotel in fall 2019 at Kanazawa, a city on the Sea of Japan coast known for a castle and Kenrokuen, considered one of the country's three most beautiful gardens.

Plans also call for a spring 2020 launch of a roughly 230-room hotel in Nara, an ancient city outside of Kyoto that is home to a temple featuring a gigantic Buddha statue and free-roaming deer. The company will consider expanding into other cities as well.

Daiwa House in June opened a luxury hotel in Kyoto, where a dozen non-Japanese staffers speak a total of nine languages. The operator anticipates that up to 70% of guests will be foreign tourists. It plans to tap the know-how gained there in its new brand. Nightly rates in Kyoto average about 22,000 yen ($198), but the new hotels will charge 13,000 yen to 16,000 yen.

Over the next two years, Tokyu Fudosan Holdings will bring its chain of hotels accommodating long-term stays to less-famous destinations. These include Kanazawa as well as Naha -- the capital of the tropical Okinawa islands -- and near Shirakawa-go, a village known for traditional thatched-roof houses. The new locations will have rooms equipped with kitchen sinks, microwaves and washing machines.

Prince Hotels, a member of the Seibu Holdings group, will debut a brand called Prince Smart Inn that caters to longer-stay guests in cities across Japan, charging around 10,000 yen a night. The first venue will open in the Ebisu area of Tokyo in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in the capital. The company plans to open other locations near major bullet-train stations, aiming to create a network of 100 hotels.

Guests at these new hotels will be able to use their smartphones to obtain tourism information in multiple languages, as well as to check in and out. The Seibu group is also offering special rates in its aggressive pursuit of international tourists.

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