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Travel & Leisure

Kyoto beguiles luxury hotel operators from Japan and abroad

Aman, Hyatt and Westin flock to the ancient capital ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Singapore’s Aman Resorts opened its third Japanese hotel in Kyoto on Nov. 1. 

KYOTO -- Kyoto is one of Japan's best-known tourist destinations and offers a number of choices for luxury accommodations.

But with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics less than a year away, more international and domestic operators of high-end hotels are opening properties in the ancient city as they vie for the business of well-heeled travelers from overseas.

In late October, Hyatt Hotels of the U.S. opened the Park Hyatt Kyoto in the popular tourist district of Higashiyama. Located on the grounds of Kyoyamato, a pricey Japanese restaurant near Kiyomizu and Kodaiji temples, the hotel hopes to attract wealthy foreign guests eager to learn about the city's history and culture.

Prices at the 70-room property start at 110,000 yen ($1,006) a night. There are nine suites overlooking Higashiyama. David Udell, head of Hyatt Hotels' Asia-Pacific business, said the chain spent more than 10 years looking for the ideal location.

On Nov. 1, Singapore's Aman Resorts Group opened its third hotel in Japan near Kinkakuji Temple. It features low-rise guest wings, a restaurant and a spa, set in 24,000 sq. meters of woodland.

In addition to 24 guest rooms, there are two stand-alone pavilions. Rooms start at 110,000 yen a night. The top-end pavilion, which measures more than 240 sq. meters, goes for 800,000 yen or more a night.

The Westin Miyako Kyoto, near Nanzenji Temple, has been renovated and will reopen next spring. The hotel, which is operated by Kintetsu Miyako Hotels, has halved the number of rooms to make each unit bigger. The top rate for a suite is 850,000 yen a night.

Japanese hotel operators are also piling into Kyoto's luxury accommodations market. Property developer Mitsui Fudosan will open Hotel the Mitsui Kyoto next summer. The 161-room property is located in front of Nijo Castle, a World Heritage site. It will have a hot spring and a garden that was part of the former residence of the Mitsui family, which ran one of Japan's biggest prewar conglomerates. Rooms range in size from 43 to 214 sq. meters.

Kyoto has seen a sharp rise in the number of hotel rooms as it pulls in more overseas visitors. As of the end of September, there were 648 inns and hotels in the city, up around 100 from five years ago. But industry watchers say that most of the growth has been in the lower and middle ranges of the market, and that luxury hotels and facilities are still in short supply.

As the competition heats up, some hotel chains are trying to use the city's rich cultural heritage to their advantage.

Imperial Hotel plans open accommodations in the city's Gion geisha district by renovating Yasaka Hall, a tangible cultural property located in the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater. The theater is a venue for the "Miyakoodori," an annual event where geishas unveil new dance performances. The hotel, which is to open in a few years, is expected to have about 100 guest rooms.

The Gion district has few lodging facilities due to the city's tight regulations on commercial activity. "We hope that the new hotel will blend well with Gion culture," said Hiroshi Owada, who is overseeing the development of Imperial Hotel's new property.

U.S. chain Ace Hotel will open its first Asian property in Kyoto next spring by converting the old brick Kyoto Central Telephone Exchange, a municipal cultural property, into a commercial complex. The complex will include a movie theater and other cultural attractions, along with a 213-room hotel on the upper floors.

Ace Hotel, which is popular with young travelers, expects more than half its guests to come from abroad.

Another operator looking to cash in on the city's history is Prince Hotels. The Japanese company will open the Hotel Seiryu Kyoto Kiyomizu in March 2020 on the site of the former Kyoto Kiyomizu Elementary School, which was built in the early Showa era (1926-1989). The hotel, which will have fewer than 50 rooms, will highlight its convenient location 10 minutes' walk from Kiyomizu Temple.

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