Bernama, March 8, 2011
From Yong Soo Heong
TOKYO, March 8 (Bernama) -- Niseko Village, the winter resort in Hokkaido, northern Japan which YTL Corp Bhd acquired last April, will be turned into a sophisticated and vibrant all-year-round tourist destination under a 10-year master plan, said Managing Director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh.
"Throughout the year, events and activities will be staged to inject life and vibrancy into Niseko Village. In fact, there is also growing awareness of Niseko in the global news where Niseko was voted the second snowiest resort in the world by Forbes Traveller.
"Niseko was also recently named one of the "top 10 ski resorts to visit in Asia" by CNN and was ranked number 12 out of "41 places to visit in 2011" by the New York Times," he said in an email interview with Bernama facilitated by the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro).
Niseko, located on the foothills of Mount Annupuri, is regarded as one of the best alpine terrains with consistent snow falls of more than 10 metres of light dry powder per season.
The temperature and low humidity in the area also create powder snow that is light and fine textured to make it one of the most popular ski destinations in the world.
During the summer, activities like water rafting and scenic flights in hot-air balloons are popular with visitors to Niseko.
Yeoh said plans were afoot by YTL Corp to popularise Niseko Vlllage as the "Aspen of the East", just like the renowned resort city of Aspen in Colorado, United States or like other chic resorts like Vail, also in Colorado, Whistler in British Columbia, Canada and St. Moritz in Switzerland, the sister city of Niseko.
But, he said YTL Corp's development plans would evoke the charm of Japan while the architecture and landscaping in Niseko Village would reflect Japanese architectural heritage and their appreciation of the environment.
YTL Corp had acquired 460 hectares of real estate and a lease of an additional 155 hectare ski mountain in the Niseko area for six billion yen (about US$66 million).
Yeoh said the acquisition represented a strategic opportunity to acquire top-quality hospitality real estate which fully complemented the existing property portfolio of its hotel subsidiary, YTL Hotels.
"The vision for Niseko Village is to realise the resort's untapped potential by creating a unique, sophisticated village atmosphere offering private ski-in ski-out facilities," he said, referring to built-in amenities in residences where one can ride on ski lifts straight to the ski slopes to ski without having to take other means of transport first.
Yeoh said the locations of YTL Corp's new hotels and resorts have been meticulously selected, with a view to integrating the local environment and unique culture of each of these assets seamlessly into the existing collection of luxury hotel, spa and resort properties.
In mid 2011, YTL Corp will launch the sale of Hinode Hill, a premium development of 125 luxuriously furnished and serviced apartments, with panoramic views of Mt. Yotei, often known as the "Mt Fuji of Hokkaido".
"The target market are high net worth individuals (HNIs) from around the world, particularly from the Asian-Pacific region where the number of affluent individuals is increasing and the love for skiing is increasing.
"They are also very attracted by the unique Japanese culture. Property developments in Niseko Village would attract HNIs who are well travelled and own overseas homes either as resort homes or for investment," he said, adding that currently, Niseko was attracting many Asians, including Malaysians, and these numbers were expected to increase strongly over the next 10 years.
Besides the 506-room Hilton Niseko Village and the 200-room Green Leaf Hotel, which was re-opened last December at Niseko Village, there are also two golf courses, one of which was designed by Arnold Palmer, as well as seven ski lifts, 15 ski trails, a 23-court tennis complex, an equestrian centre and several "onsens" or hot springs.
Yeoh said YTL Corp's plans for the Green Leaf resort also included an extensive refurbishment of its guestrooms, recreation and leisure facilities plus the launch of an international food festival in the near future to attract chefs and gourmands from around the world.
There will also be plans for a central street with a vibrant mix of retail, food, wellness, entertainment and recreational establishments set in a rustic environment.
Visitors and residents can enjoy the best of international and local offerings in shopping and dining from top luxury labels and world-famous restaurants to Japanese art galleries, restaurants offering a wide range of Hokkaido fare and cuisines and nightspots. This will be alongside amenities from gourmet supermarkets, beauty salons and entertainment options.
Asked on the impact of Air Asia's flights to Tokyo since late last year, Yeoh said they would definitely bring about more Malaysian and Asian visitors to Japan, making the country a more accessible destination with such improved connectivity.
"We strongly believe Niseko Village will see an increase in visitors because of this and we are working with the tourism authority in Niseko and our business partners to generate greater awareness of Niseko as an excellent destination, which is closer to home but with an exotic Japanese experience," he said.
Jetro said YTL Corp represented one of the many overseas companies that had decided to invest in Japan to tap into the country's rich tourism potential under new incentives provided by the government.
He also said since Air Asia mounted its thrice weekly flights to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, under the country's new "open sky" growth strategy introduced last June, the number of Malaysian visitors to Japan in December jumped to nearly 18,000 from 11,000 a month earlier.