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Business

Marriott moving in next to Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji and other rural tourist areas are drawing more international visitors.

TOKYO -- Marriott International is expanding in Japan, targeting tourist destinations where global hotel chains are few and far between.

     The U.S. company on Monday said it plans to open five hotels in Japan under its flagship Marriott Hotels brand -- all of them in rural locations. It has struck a franchising deal with Japan's Mori Trust Hotels & Resorts, which will renovate five existing facilities and rebrand them. 

     One is by Lake Yamanaka, at the foot of Mount Fuji. Another is near Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, not far from Kyoto. The remaining three locations are Karuizawa, a summer resort close to Tokyo; Shuzenji, a hot spring spot near the capital; and Nanki-Shirahama, a hot spring and beach resort near Osaka. Japanese hospitality companies dominate the accommodation markets in these places, which have been popular with domestic tourists for years.

     The five hotels are to open anew in 2016 and 2017, though details of the renovations have yet to be revealed.

Marriott's Craig S. Smith and Mori Trust Hotels & Resorts' Miwako Date meet the press in Tokyo on Feb. 22.

     "The five properties are well-positioned to give touchpoints for [international] travelers, who increasingly want to explore beyond the gateway cities of Japan," Craig S. Smith, the hotel chain's president and managing director for Asia-Pacific, told reporters in Tokyo.

     Mori Trust Hotels & Resorts aims to attract more international customers by using the Marriott brand. "We hope the inbound tourism boom in the big cities will spread into rural areas," chief executive Miwako Date said.

     Japan welcomed 19.7 million visitors in 2015, up 47% from the previous year. More travelers are indeed opting to see what else the country has to offer, besides big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Yamanashi Prefecture, one of two prefectures straddled by Mount Fuji, welcomed 948,000 tourists in 2014, up 93% on the year. 

     Marriott, whose Japanese hotels are concentrated in major cities, says it will be the first international chain in its five chosen areas. But it is not alone in extending its reach: Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which runs Sheraton and Westin hotels in Tokyo and Osaka, opened three facilities on the northern island of Hokkaido last year.

     As international chains encroach on their turf, Japanese hotels may feel pressure to improve their own products and services.

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