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Tokyo excited about economic boost from Saudi king's visit

Hotels, limos, shops prepare for Salman's entourage of 1,000-plus

TOKYO -- The visit of King Salman of Saudi Arabia is filling up rooms at high-end hotels in Tokyo and probably will keep limousine services busy even on the usually slow weekend.

This marks the first trip to Japan in 46 years by a Saudi king. Salman, ruler of the world's largest oil exporter, is bringing an unprecedented entourage of up to 1,500 people. Department stores and upscale brand purveyors are also anxious to welcome them.

Salman is now on his Asian tour and will arrive in Japan on Sunday after visiting Malaysia, Indonesia and China. He will stay until Wednesday, with 1,000 to 1,500 people accompanying him. About 1,200 rooms at luxury hotels in Tokyo have been booked.

When Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited last September, a group of around 500 came in a dozen planes and hired more than 200 cars and buses. The king's group will be more than double in size.

Occupancy rates of upscale hotels in Tokyo are rising across the board. "On some days we are almost fully booked," said a staffer of one of them. People clad in Middle Eastern clothing, staying at the hotels to prepare for the king's visit, are already being spotted in lobbies.

Car services are benefiting from the extra demand. Hinomaru Limousine, for instance, has earmarked about 10% of its fleet to the Saudi group. "Normally we serve many business customers on weekdays, but the king's visit likely will keep us busy on the weekend, too," said a company employee.

Department store and designer-brand shop operators expressed hopes mixed with some concerns. "If many Saudis come to stores and learn the services of Japanese department stores, that may encourage them to come in the future," said an executive of a major department store operator.

A staffer of a premium foreign-brand goods purveyor said dignitaries from around the world often come in unannounced, so the Saudis may also drop by with no appointments.


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