By Matthew Roy
Hokkaido real estate journalist
ON a recent trip to Hong Kong taking in the bright lights, I was bombarded by the sights and sounds of Hokkaido. Japanese restaurants serving Hokkaido cuisine, shops selling Hokkaido chocolate, cheesecakes, crabs… and people who seemed to know the place at least as well as I did.
“Hokkaido is very beautiful and natural without the pollution and high-rise buildings you get in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo,” said Peggy Lam, a Hong Kong business professional. “People there are very down-to-earth, genuine and friendly. Every season is distinct and has its own beauty; you can see snow in the winter and lavender in the summer.”
This enthusiasm in Hong Kong, and nearby countries, for Hokkaido, has meant business people in Niseko have long believed that some day in the future, Asians would overtake Australians as the largest group of visitors and investors on the ski-fields.
While the most obvious evidence of this in the past two years has been big investments by Hong Kong and now Malaysian companies, local operators confirm that the recent crash in the Australian dollar and the growing popularity of the island means Asian tourism is now surging.
According to national tourism statistics, visits from Australia fell 10 per cent in October, but visits from Hong Kong rose by 42 per cent, Singapore by 10 per cent and Thailand by 10 per cent, compared to the previous year. The yen skyrocketed 39 per cent against the Australian dollar from July to the end of November but only rose 19, 15 and 10 per cent against the Singapore dollar, Thai baht and Hong Kong dollar, respectively.
Chris Chan, sales manager at the Niseko condominium developer Nisade, confirms that bookings from Asia have leapt in recent months: “Hong Kong is number one, followed closely by Singapore and Malaysia quickly on its heels. Visits from the Chinese seaboard are also growing quickly and it’s an enormous potential market for the future.”
Julian Bailey, who works in Asia sales at travel and development group Hokkaido Tracks, confirms this will lead to a greater share of property sales in Asia. “Before the crisis hit there was a 50–50 split between Australian and Asian investors,” says Julian. “That has changed dramatically to favour Asian investors.”
But Australians will still be buying despite the crunch, says Chris at Nisade: “People coming to Niseko are better-healed than your average visitor to Japan as a whole. Although they’ve been hit hard by the strong yen, they won’t have been hit as hard as many others. I was expecting a much more negative impact, but lot of Australian visitors are coming and many still intend to purchase this year.”
Back in Hong Kong, Peggy asked me, “So when do you think the best season is to visit if you are planning to buy a house?”
“I think summer is the best”, I replied, “because you can see what the island looks like underneath the snow. Oh, and by the way, where can I find that Hokkaido cheese cake once I’m back in Japan?”