Niseko has become one of Japan’s ultimate spots for luxury hotels, joining the likes of Tokyo and Kyoto. Niseko’s sudden ascend to luxury hotspot status is remarkable. Niseko had long been famous among Japanese and foreign skiers, particularly from Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, for its powdery snow that made the location one of the best places to ski in the world. However, with smaller hotels and ryokan, and with the Hilton Niseko Village as the sole big international name serving the area, Niseko was leagues away from being a luxury destination like Aspen, Courchevel, and St. Mortiz. Then, in December 2016, AYA Niseko arrived.
WIth only 79 luxury apartments and penthouses, AYA Niseko signaled that a rapid change was coming to Niseko, fueled by Australian and Chinese investors who opened condominiums in the area after seeing that the area could become a luxury destination; and then, in January 2020, Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono opened its doors. The Park Hyatt filled in a gap, becoming the first truly five star hotel in Niseko, which the area had long lacked. The hotel offered understated elegance and acclaimed restaurants that would perfectly cater to its expected foreign clientele: over the past years, a vast majority of those staying in Niseko have been foreigners.
The same year, Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz Carlton Reserve property, opened. Ritz Carlton Reserve is an interesting brand. While the properties have the Ritz Carlton name, these hotels are smaller and more prestigious than the Ritz Carlton brand. In fact, Marriott Bonvoy members can neither accumulate nor redeem points when staying in these hotels.
Another ultra-luxury hotel has also set its eyes on Niseko: Aman.
Aman are among the world’s most acclaimed luxury resorts, known for their hospitality, customizable experience, low number of units, and unique location; although in recent years the brand has focused on already popular destinations and city hotels. The Aman hotel and its accompanying residences are set to open in 2023.
Despite the growth that has seen the area around Niseko experience the country’s highest increases in land prices over the past six years, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of financial troubles to many of the existing resorts and condominiums. Since Niseko’s luxury market depended far more on its vast number of inbound tourists, the travel restrictions have severely impacted the resorts in the area. At this point, it’s hard to tell exactly how the pandemic will affect the plans of turning Niseko into the Aspen of East Asia.
Another challenge Niseko faces is that the emergence of luxury condominiums and resorts goes against what local skiers expect from Japanese ski resorts. Adding than flying to Hokkaido is more troublesome than driving or taking a train to Nagano for many of those living in metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka, attracting Japanese tourists has become one of the challenges hotels in Niseko have faced over the past months.
Hakuba, for instance, has remained a popular choice among Tokyo residents and foreigners thanks to its slopes, snow quality, and comparatively affordable lodging when compared to Niseko; not to mention that Japanese skiers see many of the hotels in Hakuba as a unique representation and feeling of what a Japanese ski resort has to embody.
Luckily for Niseko, investors have not lost hope, and it is expected that the area with its new five star resorts will surely continue to attract affluent tourists after the pandemic.