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Japan's amusement parks hike prices as attractions widen

Tokyo amusement park Yomiuriland raised the price of admission on the day it opened Goodjoba!!, a new area of hands-on educational attractions.

TOKYO -- Tokyo Disney Resort in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, and Osaka's Universal Studios Japan are just two of the country's amusement parks that raised prices this year.

Many popular facilities introduced higher admission rates since the beginning of this year, including Fuji-Q Highland in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, and Huis Ten Bosch in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.

Some among them, including Tokyo Disney Resort and USJ, are doing it because of the introduction of exciting new rides and attractions to boost visitor numbers, especially repeaters. But the picture is not as rosy for all of them. 

USJ is spending several tens of billion yen (several hundred million dollars) on its expansion plans. Its "Harry Potter" theme park, introduced in 2014, continues to attract visitors, but it also opened The Flying Dinosaur, a roller coaster that cost 10 billion yen to build, in March.

In July, Tokyo Disney Resort launched Stitch Encounter in Tokyo Disneyland. The attraction allows visitors to converse with characters appearing on screen in real time. The operator also plans to introduce a large attraction, estimated to cost some 32 billion yen, based on the popular Disney animated film "Beauty and the Beast."

Visitors up, prices up

New attractions were introduced even as visitor figures remain robust at both parks. Visitors to Tokyo Disney Resort totaled 30.2 million in the year ended in March. The figure is down 3.8% compared to the previous fiscal year, but it marks the third consecutive year the figure exceeded 30 million.

USJ, too, renewed its record visitor figure in fiscal 2014 and 2015 consecutively.

Tokyo Disney Resort raised the adult admission price by 500 yen in April, while USJ increased its price by 200 yen in February. The two key players now have the same adult admission charge at 7,400 yen, inclusive of tax.

Compared to these, Yomiuriland's hike of 1,400 yen is a bold move, although the new, ride-all-you-want admission for adults of tax-inclusive 5,400 yen is still cheaper than the two giants. The hike on March 18 was timed with opening of a new area called Goodjoba!!, which cost the Inagi, Tokyo-based park some 10 billion yen.

Themed on manufacturing, Goodjoba!! provides educational hands-on experience in car, food, fashion and stationery-themed subareas, respectively created in cooperation with Nissan Motor, Nissin Food Products, fashion company World and knitting machine maker Shima Seiki MFG, and office supply maker Kokuyo.

"Goodjoba!! has proved popular, and it boosted our visitor numbers tremendously," said a park spokesperson. But the new facility also hit the park's finances, with pretax profit declining 15.1% from a year ago in the April-June period, even though revenue rose 18.7%. The park would find it hard to make additional investment unless it raised prices further.

Amusement park expert Daisuke Ohata said the success of price hikes tends to rely on the introduction of major new attractions. "When prices are hiked simultaneously with the launch of a major attraction, visitors are more likely to accept more expensive tickets," said Ohata, who heads Yuuenchi.com, an amusement park information site.

That said, the widespread hikes mean a heavier burden for families, as the cost per person can exceed 10,000 yen for a day's visit to many of the major parks, considering costs for meals and souvenirs as well. Operators may need to make further efforts to keep their facilities attractive to consumers, according to Ohata.

While some parks are boosting visitors by successfully introducing new attractions with additional investments, Tobu World Square, situated in the famous tourist destination of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, located just north of Tokyo, is hiking prices for a different reason.

The increase, which will raise adult admission by 300 yen to tax-inclusive 2,800 yen, is the first ever for the park since opening in 1993. It is planned as a result of slumping visitor figures after the March 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, adjacent to Tochigi on its north border.

The disaster dramatically reduced tourist numbers to Nikko, especially as its major tourist segments -- group tours and school field trips -- plunged amid fears of potential health hazards from exposure to radiation. Tochigi prefectural government statistics show that the number of visitors to Nikko dropped 24% from the previous year to 8.62 million in 2011. The figure has since gradually recovered, but has yet to return to pre-disaster levels.

The prolonged slump drove Tobu World Square to raise an admission price that had stayed flat over the previous 23 years.

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