Hokkaido tourism has been largely dependent on its nature assets. Exploring nature, hot springs and spas are always at the top of visit purposes in tourist surveys. Nonetheless, events, culture and sports also play an important part. Snow festivals across the island, 19th Century legacies such as the Sapporo Clock Tower and skiing activities are always on the must-do list for incoming visitors.
While many have visited Hokkaido, very few tourists are aware of its indigenous culture. In July 2020, a national museum and park opened with the theme of the culture of the Ainu, the aboriginal people of Hokkaido. Named UPOPOY, the national museum in Shiraoi will allow visitors to participate in a range of programmes to experience the indigenous culture. A grand Japanese-style hotel by Hoshino Resort, named Hoshino Resorts KAI Poroto, is scheduled to open nearby the facility in Winter 2021.
Sports tourism is a fast-growing sector, with growing numbers of people traveling to participate in or view sports events. For example, marathon races in Japan are popular with overseas participants. In Hokkaido, the next attraction will be a baseball park.
Hokkaido Baseball Park, a baseball field with an entertainment zone, is planned to be completed in March 2023 in Kita-Hiroshima City. On top of housing a Japanese Baseball team, the plan includes a farmer’s market, glamping facilities, concert halls, hotels, and hot springs and spas. While the baseball park can attract additional tourists to Hokkaido to watch baseball games, it will also serve as a new tourist spot for existing Hokkaido visitors.
Niseko: the Asian Aspen
Skiing is the most advanced sports tourism sector in Hokkaido, with Niseko, an internationally well-known ski resort, very popular with international visitors.
Niseko is around two hours from Sapporo city and New Chitose Airport. The first ski area was completed in the 1960s, with a new skiing facility opened every decade subsequently. Currently, there are four main ski areas: Mount Niseko Grand Hirafu Resort, Niseko Annupuri, Niseko Village and Hanazono Niseko Japan. The first two are owned by domestic companies and the other two by capital from Malaysia and Hong Kong respectively.
Niseko has attracted Australians to visit since the late 1990s. In 2006, 64% of foreign visitors (around 74,000) staying in Niseko and Kutchan came from Australia. In the 2010s, with the government policy of promoting tourism, the premier resort of Hokkaido saw an influx of tourists. In 2018, while the number of Australian visitors grew by 91% compared to 2006, they now accounted for only 21% of the total. The area is now filled with ski lovers from China, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and other Asian countries. Visitors from the United States have spent more than 41,000 nights in Niseko, and from the United Kingdom, 14,000 nights.
Witnessing the growing demand in the area, several luxury hotel brands have put forward their plans to enter Niseko. Park Hyatt Niseko in the Hanazono area opened in January 2020. The Hirafu area will have a new Pavilion hotel in Winter 2020. Moreover, three hotel brands from Marriott International and Aman Resorts’ fourth facility in Japan are coming to Niseko Village area.
In January 2020, Sapporo became a Japanese candidate city for the 2030 Winter Olympics bid. If Sapporo successfully win the bid, the Asian Aspen will become even more of a hotspot.