The Yomiuri Shimbun MAEBASHI — In a bid to further boost the growing number of foreign visitors to Minakami, Gunma Prefecture, from other parts of Asia, area company Kan-etsu Transportation Co. recently began selling bus passes on the internet.
Based in Shibukawa, Gunma Prefecture, Kan-etsu Transportation operates fixed-route buses. It sells the passes for area services via Klook, an online reservation service website, and foreign tourists can buy them in languages including Chinese and Thai via their smartphones.
The company expects this will increase the number of foreign tourists who stay in the town, as it will lead to less stress as a result of difficulty communicating with local residents.
The new sales service offers the Minakami Area Pass, an exclusive pass for foreign tourists who ride on local fixed-route buses in Minakami. The passes cost ¥2,000 (about $18) for people who are equivalent in age to junior high school students in Japan or older, and ¥1,000 for those equivalent to elementary school students.
Holders get unlimited rides on the buses for three days.
The Minakami Area Pass has been sold by the Minakami Tourism Association and the Minakami-Onsen Inns Association since November 2014. However, people could buy it in only two locations — a tourist guide office inside Jomo-Kogen Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen line, and the inns association’s office beside JR Minakami Station.
In recent years, an increasing number of tourists have visited the town, not only from Chinese- and English-speaking regions, but other regions including such Asian countries as Thailand and Indonesia.
“Some tasks are difficult to handle through our own efforts alone,” an official of the town government said.
Klook has many users in Asian countries. Using their smartphones, they can buy transportation tickets in their own languages while they are still in their countries. In the case of Minakami, foreign tourists can receive the passes by showing their purchase records on their smartphones at ticket offices in the town.
Attracted by the town’s tourism resources, such as hot spring and ski resorts, the number of foreign tourists who visit the town has been increasing year by year. In fiscal 2013 there were 6,708 overseas visitors who lodged in the town, compared to 4.5 times that number, or 30,123, in fiscal 2017.
Until recently, overnight stays by foreign tourists tended to be concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan area. But as repeat visitors have increased, more overseas tourists now visit and stay in regional areas as well.
In fiscal 2012, the Minakami town government set up a section exclusively for internationally promoting the town as a tourist destination. Promotions mainly in Taiwan and Thailand have contributed to the recent increase in visitors.
However, the Minakami town area is so wide that it may be difficult for foreign tourists, who do not know the local geography very well, to get around on foot.
The number of foreign tourists who use local buses has been larger than expected. According to Kan-etsu Transportation, 701 area passes were sold in fiscal 2017.