Enabling regional growth of the hot spring industry and how to optimise thermal waters as a natural energy resource was the theme of the first-ever International Onsen Summit held in Japan in May. The underlying question some 1,000 global delegates gathered to discuss – what can operators in the global hot spring industry do to help further develop the sector?
Calls to action
An international cross section of global experts led talks and provided insights on growth potential. Yolanda Perdomo, former director UNWTO Affiliate Members Programme; Asa Brynjolfsdottir, director of research and development at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon; and David James, director of tourism, Bath UK to name but a few.
Overall, their calls to action were:
• to emphasise the benefits of bathing in hot springs more widely
• to cultivate hot spring tourism growth
• to expand academic and industry research proving the benefits of thermal waters
• to increase geothermal energy use in new areas, such as in food growth and cooking.
Hot springs tourism
Cultivating growth in the hot springs tourism sector maps effortlessly with Japan’s national strategy.
As a volcanically active country, it boasts up to 3,000 hot springs and thermal bathing facilities – known locally as onsen. Beppu, the host town, is acknowledged as Japan’s unofficial onsen capital based on its number of hot spring sources and the ‘gush volume’ of the water. Other, perhaps more famous, onsen spots in the country include Kusatsu and Hakone.
Tourism in Japan has increased dramatically in recent years, rising from 8.4 million in 2012 to 28.7 million in 2017. This is largely due to a relaxation in visa restrictions and a weakening of the Yen. The goal is to increase international tourism footfall to 60 million by 2030. In the more immediate future, the hosting of the Rugby World Cup next year, the Olympic Games in 2020 and a bid to host Expo 2025 means the country is well placed and keen for the benefit of tourism to be felt beyond the key cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
What greater opportunity could there be for hot spring operators? Certainly, residents and facilities in Beppu are expecting a significant increase in tourists as the town becomes involved in these world-stage events. For less-endorsed destinations to successfully capture the burgeoning visitor market, it was agreed that promotion and ease of access is highlighted.
Back on a global scale, it’s clear from summit talks and discussions that success in the hot spring industry is seen as a collaborative effort between public and private sector.
Much food for thought for the next event which is likely to take place at a similar time in the country in 2019.