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Niagara Falls Hotel Offers Japanese a Touch of Home

REUTERS

North Americans are falling out of love with Niagara Falls, but their place is being taken by a growing influx of Japanese.

The number of Americans visiting the world-famous falls has dropped at an annual rate of 8.4% over the past two years, a drop of more than 3 million visits.

But the number of Japanese tourists to Canada jumped by a quarter in 1989 to 450,000, with Niagara Falls a favorite destination, according to government statistics.

Hotelier Eric Hamblen has taken unusual steps to make sure his Ramada Renaissance Fallsview hotel gets its fair share of the new visitors.

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The hotel has a Japanese-speaking concierge and seven front desk staff who also speak the language. Green tea is served, and guests can read the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, delivered daily to their rooms.

Japanese tourists now make up 50% of the hotel’s business, and Hamblen expects a total of 25,000 will have stayed there by the end of this year’s peak season in October.

Hamblen, 25, started targeting Japanese guests in 1988, spurred on by a weakening domestic market and changes in Japanese government policy.

“In 1985, the heat was on the Japanese to reduce their trade surplus, and the government responded with the ’10 million plan.’ They encouraged their people to travel abroad and targeted 10 million overseas visits by 1990,” he said in a recent interview.

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Hamblen visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka to find out what Japanese visitors want, and he established links with major Japanese travel agents.

The results have been impressive. “In 1988, we had a 500% increase in Japanese guests, and an increase of 10,000 in 1989, and we foresee nothing but growth in the coming years.”

The next steps will be Japanese-language information on the hotel’s cable television and Japanese subtitles on cable movies.

What’s good for his hotel is good for the local economy, Hamblen said. A recent American survey found that the average U.S. or Canadian tourist spends about $35 a day while the average Japanese tourist spends about $120.

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But fellow entrepreneurs in the resort have been less than enthusiastic about promoting the Japanese connection.

Hamblen has been able to sell only a handful of advertisements in his Japanese-language guide map of the resort.

“With the American market slipping substantially, I find it hard to believe how little interest has been shown for this lucrative new market,” he said.


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