UTSUNOMIYA, Japan -- Ritz-Carlton Hotel plans to open a property in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, as early as 2019, as part of a push to expand operations in Japan.
The U.S. luxury-hotel operator will work with Japan's Tobu Railway, which owns roughly 20,000 sq. meters of land by Lake Chuzenji.
The new hotel will be situated where Tobu closed the Nikko Lakeside Hotel in January. The location has direct access to a hot-spring source, and is about 30 minutes by car from the Nikko Toshogu shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Marriott International, which owns the Ritz-Carlton brand, is discussing the scale and management method of the new hotel with Tobu.
Ritz-Carlton currently has properties in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Okinawa. It has also announced plans to open a hotel in Niseko, Hokkaido Prefecture, by 2020.
From January to August, 16.06 million people visited Japan, up 25% on the year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. The visitor count is likely to exceed 20 million this year. As Tokyo gears up to host the 2020 Olympics, even more travelers are expected.
And accommodation arrangements are growing increasingly diverse, with many people visiting smaller localities beyond major cities. Last year, more than 50% of travelers stayed outside of the "golden route" metropolises of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
Tobu Railway operates Tobu World Square, a theme park exhibiting miniature versions of world-famous buildings, in the Kinugawa area of Nikko, close to other tourist sites including the shrine complex. In summer 2017, the company plans to resume the operation of steam locomotives there.
By honing the appeal of smaller localities, Tobu hopes to draw more foreigners to areas it serves. The company in late August announced plans to buy Kanaya Hotel, a Nikko resort-hotel operator, at the end of this month -- part of efforts to create synergies within the group.