Is Japan the World’s Next Wellness Destination?

by Jessica Montevago
Is Japan the World’s Next Wellness Destination?

Beppu is known for its onsen, or hot springs. Photo: Shutterstock

Japan is now the third-largest wellness tourism destination in Asia, in terms of total visitors, according to the Global Wellness Institute’s 2019 Global Wellness Trends report.

Since the tourism industry has received substantial investments in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, officials are promoting Japanese wellness — from an extraordinary hot springs culture to forest bathing — to broaden the country’s international appeal.

To become a tourism-oriented country by 2020 calls for a shift in Japan’s growth path.

Because wellness tourists are big spenders, an inbound wellness tourism surge would help disperse tourists from the over-visited Kyoto-Osaka-Tokyo routes. Currently, 48% of tourist stays are concentrated in the major cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, according to The Future of Japan’s Tourism: Path for Sustainable Growth, which suggests a significant opportunity for Japan to attract more visitors to locations outside of the top urban areas. Even when tourists do travel to other administrative districts in Japan, they spend an average of 30% less than they do in those three major cities.

Since the Japanese government has made it a priority to revitalize non-metropolitan areas, increasing tourism in these areas could be a core element of its strategy, the report said.

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) is developing wellness-focused tourism in lesser-known destinations, such as Misugi, which promotes natural assets like stargazing and forest bathing; and Beppu, on the southern island of Kyushu, known for its onsen (hot springs). The scenic area, where rocky baths overlook the ocean at high-class mountain retreats, has close to 3,000 hot spring vents.

Other strategic wellness tourism zones include the Dragon Route in central Japan, which includes historic and cultural sites, natural landscapes (including Mount Fuji), and plenty of hot springs.

High-end brands — including InterContinental, Hyatt and Marriott — are capitalizing on the attraction of the traditional Japanese spa experience and opening resorts in some of these destinations. 

With the 2019 opening of the ANA InterContinental Beppu Resort & Spa, the area is aiming to increase its international tourism numbers significantly. The 89-room resort offers two large outdoor onsens, with private onsen rooms within an exclusive space complete with a luxurious day bed, bathroom, and minimalist design. At the heart of the resort is an infinity pool overlooking Beppu’s hot springs below. The spa offers a selection of tailor-made treatments and therapies using materials derived from nature, with five treatment rooms, an outdoor garden, and two double massage rooms featuring a jacuzzi made from Japanese cypress.

The 214-key Park Hyatt Niseko, Hanazono, slated to open in Jan. 2020 in one of Japan’s prime ski destinations, will also have a large wellness component.

Japan’s Niseko incoming development pipeline also includes the ultra-luxury Aman in Moiwa and the 50-key Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Niseko Village, opening Sept. 2020.

Luxury resort operator Banyon Tree, promoting wellness lifestyle since the later 1990s, will open its first Japanese property in 2022. Located in Kyoto, the 60-room resort will house a Banyan Tree Spa and onsen facilities focusing on rejuvenation, along with a specialty restaurant, library, and gymnasium.

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