A virtual yen for travel

For nearly two decades now Japan has been the only developed economy with a perennially flaccid if not a moribund growth rate. So hotels and resort locales there are taking to some unusual stimulants to stoke up visitation.

On the resort front, the Wall Street Journal has a somewhat bizarre report on romantic getaways by "real" men with "virtual" girlfriends. Apparently, the Japanese resort town of Atami, a once thriving place for lovebirds whose central parts sport a deserted look with boarded up shops and few humans, has come up with a promotion aimed at lovelorn young men . The mayor of the town is now touting it as a romantic destination with a twist: single men and their hand-held devices. Picking up on that is a real hotel, the Hotel Ohnoya, that opened in the 1930s and is seeking to shore up its dwindling occupancy by training staff to check in Love Plus+ (the video game) customers as couples even if
there is only one actual guest with some going so far as to pay twice the rate ($500). College student, Tatsuya Fukazawa did just that on a recent weekend when he arrived with a small waist bag carrying his Nintendo
DS. "Once he turned on the device, his virtual girlfriend Manaka Takane—a
Libra who enjoys making pastries—greeted him in a syrupy sweet voice. "There isn't a lot of romance in my life and this helps me cope with some of the loneliness" said Mr. Fukazawa with a chuckle."

Not to be outdone on the frontiers of what can he euphemistically termed as creative marketing is "The Washington Hotel in Tokyo's Akihabara district, famous for its electronics shops. Reuters has a report on how the hotel "boasts a unique attraction in its star room — a large, built-in train set." The hotel has "built a train set into a 13th floor twin room
that features a model Tokyo Tower, a mosaic of the city's neighborhoods
and the resort area of Hakone.
Guests can run their own trains in the room or borrow one from the hotel for 1,000 yen ($12). A hotel spokesperson deadpans that the "railway room is popular with train maniacs who
start playing immediately from the moment they enter the room until
check-out, as well as with families bringing little children to escape
the scorching sun during summer holidays
." Apparently, train addicts $300, 
twice the regular rate,  for the room where the train set spreads
over four square meters and has taken over the area of one bed."

Also in Japan, for those inclined to travel, the dolor from the flagging economy has been somewhat relieved by the yen's rise against the dollar. That uptick has been acted upon by US airline giant, Delta which is "upbeat" about Japanese business thanks to a strengthening yen (in relation to the dollar) as a result of which the airline hopes to reap the benefit of "increased travel
by Japanese whose spending power has jumped and are flying in droves to
spots like Guam, Hawaii and Saipan."  New York and other major conurbations in the US seem not to have, as yet, attracted these travelers. Nevertheless, a strategy predicated on the dollar staying at or below its fifteen year low seems risky should the economy in the US revive to the point of strengthening the greenback.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.