Japan Today
Adventure tourism
Hannah Pearson, regional director – APAC, of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) Image: Courtesy of Hannah Pearson

Travel agents in Japan banking on adventure tourism

By Kathryn Wortley

Hokkaido on Monday kicks off the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS), the largest annual event for adventure travel professionals. Japan’s northernmost prefecture will welcome some 800 tour operators, destination representatives, adventure travel writers and thought leaders from around 70 countries and regions from September 11–14.

The Japan Adventure Tourism Organization defines adventure tourism as “trips that consist of two or more of the three elements of activity, nature and culture experience,” and has made it a key element of the country’s tourism recovery over the next few years.

Travel agents, too, are banking on adventure tourism to help address overtourism by stimulating growth in visitors arrivals to regional areas.

Hiroyuki Takahashi, chairperson of JTB Corporation, noted: “As the global demand to visit Japan is extremely high and growing, JTB is working together with the public and private sectors and developing new tourism attractions to expand the capacity in rural areas. Adventure tourism would be the innovative driver to address these demands and challenges.”

Hannah Pearson, regional director – APAC, of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), the largest global network of adventure travel leaders, tells us more about adventure travel in Japan.

Why was Hokkaido chosen for the summit’s location?

Hokkaido was one of the first destinations within Japan to attend an ATTA event, and to be inspired by the potential that adventure travel could bring to the destination, beyond it being seen as a snow and ski destination. And indeed, there is so much adventure in Hokkaido - from hiking to kayaking, learning more about local Ainu culture to indulging in the fabulous food here.

Adventure tourism is in its infancy in Japan but developing quickly, with Hiroshima hosting AdventureConnect this year. How was the inaugural event?

The ATTA were very pleased to partner with Japan Adventure Tourism Council (JATO) and JTB to hold the first ever AdventureConnect in Hiroshima, bringing together adventure tourism professionals for networking and to learn from the stories of some of the members of the Hiroshima Adventure Travel Council. We had around 40 attendees join the event, which is really testament to the growing interest surrounding adventure travel from the region.

What can Hiroshima offer as an adventure travel destination?

One key word struck me as I visited Hiroshima's city center and learned more about its history is resilience: resilience of the people to rebuild a city [after World War II], rebuild their lives, and to refuse to have Hiroshima forever defined by its history. Adventure travel is all about resilience, too, both physically and mentally.

What are local organizations doing there?

Adventure travel companies are undertaking amazing initiatives in Hiroshima and beyond, from bringing much needed economic activity and revitalizing small villages such as Yuki, as adventure travel hopping-off points, to developing agrotourism attractions, SUP tours, cycling and hiking the beautiful countryside surrounding Hiroshima.

What does the future hold for Hiroshima in adventure tourism?

It undeniably has potential to become a fantastic adventure travel destination in Japan, allowing travelers a diverse range of experiences, but is largely untapped potential right now.

What other areas of Japan are showing particular promise in the development of adventure tourism and why?

Okinawa is another destination which is starting to see promise for adventure travel, with a completely different offering to Hokkaido - and I think that's the real beauty of adventure travel in Japan, that you can have one country with such diverse activities, which in turn are different in the four different seasons - so there is always a reason for adventure travelers to return.

What can adventure travel stakeholders expect to see in Japan's adventure travel industry following the summit?

Holding ATWS has really been a rallying call for adventure travel in Japan, or AT as it is known here. Other prefectures are seeing the level of care and attention which Hokkaido and JNTO have given to adventure travel and hosting ATWS, and they are in turn motivated to see how it could shape their tourism for the better, and help to address those issues of overtourism and younger populations leaving rural areas for the city.

I think we can expect to see more adventure travel options throughout the country, as demand grows from both the international community and tour operators themselves want to get more involved in adventure travel.

© Japan Today

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