Ski resorts in Japan are increasingly introducing "glamping" to make use of the extensive land they occupy all year round, with tourists finding the spots a sanctuary to avoid crowds while reconnecting with nature.
Meiho Resort in Gujo, Gifu Prefecture, established a glamping area on a camping site in 2018. Noriki Mizumukai, 40, of Minokamo, Gifu, visited the area with his family this summer and became an instant fan because it "doesn't require any equipment preparation," he said. His 12-year-old son Ryo, meanwhile, was more impressed with the "clean mountain air" than not having to rough it as an ordinary camper would.
Glamping -- or glamorous camping -- describes a style of camping with amenities, including air conditioning, beds, Wi-Fi, and other features one might expect at a hotel.
According to Hirofumi Kamakura, the resort's marketing manager, while summer visitors to Meiho had once been about 10 percent of the winter level, the number has been steadily increasing since the introduction of glamping.
This summer, Meiho introduced six "Grace Balm" tents with posher interiors. "We aim to promote our services not only in winter but all year round," Kamakura said.
Maiko Resort in Minamiuonuma, Niigata Prefecture, has 18 glamping tents, up from just four in 2018. The tents are air-conditioned and have comfortable beds and other facilities.
The resort has used the latest marketing techniques to attract guests, such as holding a photo contest on social media and increasing "instagrammable" dome-type tents popular among young people.
One merit of glamping in a ski resort is that guests "can enjoy an extraordinary experience in the great outdoors, feeling they are away from the eyes of others," said a Maiko official.
According to a white paper on leisure activities by the Japan Productivity Center, the ski and snowboard population was 4.3 million in Japan in 2020, down about 40 percent from 2010. Data from Yano Research Institute has also shown that the value of domestic ski and snowboard gear shipments has been on a downward trend.
In contrast, glamping is gaining popularity among people who wish to avoid crowded areas -- a trend "starting to take hold as a new style of travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic," top travel agency JTB Corp said. Ski resort operators are pinning high hopes on glamping to overcome their hardships.
Ryuoo Mountain Resort in the town of Yamanouchi in Nagano Prefecture began glamping services on one of its unused ski courses in the summer of 2021.
As guests can enjoy the "sea of clouds" -- a breathtaking overcast layer of undulating cloud formations -- spreading up close when conditions are right, the operator has been flooded with reservations, leaving a waiting list of about 4,000.
The popularity of the new glamping business was a welcome surprise, according to a resort official. "We had been looking for a breakthrough to halt the decreasing number of skiers due to aging facilities."
Travel journalist Kazuko Murata pointed out the benefits of low initial costs to running the business. "Glamping has advantages such as a lower initial investment for operators and a shorter construction period," Murata said.
"If you have a big amount of land, you can increase facilities while watching how the business goes. Now that tourism has been hit hard by COVID-19, it is a good move to take on the challenge of matching needs with existing assets."