3 Market Insights For Post-COVID Niseko - From The Master Minds Behind The New H2 Group
Words by Conor Acutt
We sit down with Simon Robinson and Michael Chen, Co-CEOs of the new H2 Group.
In the latter stages of 2020, two of Niseko's market leading brands, Hokkaido Tracks and HakuLife, entered into a history making partnership. One, the first international developer in the region and arguably the premiere, full-service, resort property company in Hokkaido. The other, a name synonymous with 6-star service and the first to bring Ultra-Luxury to the Niseko sphere. These companies, both pioneers in their own right, have established commanding positions within the Hokkaido lifestyle, real estate and tourism space.
It is this pioneering mindset that brought the heads of these two highly acclaimed companies, Simon Robinson and Michael Chen, together. Both men saw a need to provide an elevated resort experience across the Niseko and Furano markets. With their complimentary skillsets Simon and Michael established a new platform that is rethinking the way real estate is sold, projects are managed, and hospitality is delivered to the guest. The result, the H2 Group.
Both of these leaders possess a keen foresight which has helped them to maintain their leading edge. We sat down with Simon and Michael to understand what is next for the region and to shed some light on the current state of play. They distilled their knowledge into 3 key insights for the future.
1. HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
"History repeats itself but with a difference this time," says Michael. "The tourism rebound will not only meet previous demand, it will exceed it by a large factor." Both entrepreneurs have experienced the ups and downs of Niseko and are confident that the region holds more worldwide appeal than it ever has before. "Hokkaido has shown itself to be an enduring market," explains Simon. "The region has experienced severe crises before with the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2011 tsunami, both of which caused downturns in tourism numbers and investment in the region. What was observed following both of these events was a return to pre-downturn levels in market interest."
Both agree there is a marked difference this time around with sustained interest in Hokkaido investment and travel even during the pandemic. "Enquiries for land purchases and investment are steady, and the pent-up demand to travel has been palpable. We estimate the enquiry rate to be 30-40% higher than we’ve experienced following previous downturns," says Simon. Michael adds his thoughts on the current situation, "We fully expect tourism numbers and investments to grow as soon as the borders re-open."
2. HOKKAIDO BECOMING AN EXTREMELY APPEALING DESTINATION TO VISIT AND LIVE
"A pristine environment, unpolluted air, low density living. This is fast becoming an aspirational lifestyle location for a greater and greater number of people – even those who have historically considered themselves 'urbanites'", says Michael. With companies now adopting mobile work practices and a vast percentage of jobs moving digital there has never been a better time for professionals to decentralize and move out of the cities. "We are seeing an intermingling of work and play like never before," says Michael. "Guests can stay in Niseko, ride the powder by morning, get some work done in the afternoon and enjoy the amazing nightlife this region has to offer before doing it all again the next day."
Simon has observed many real life examples this year of the long quoted Hokkaido maxim, 'You come for the winter but you stay because of the summer'. "One of the impacts of COVID is that more people have stayed in Hokkaido beyond last winter season than ever before. Indeed, a great number of people have discovered the magic of Hokkaido and have broadcast that magic through social media making them the envy of the their friends and family," he says. "This will surely result in increased activity in the green season and a greater level of migration to the paradise of Hokkaido."
Michael lining up a drive at the Hanazono Golf Course. Glen Claydon Photography.
3. REDISCOVERY OF A NATIONAL TREASURE
"For the affluent Japanese over the last 20 years, holiday travel meant either going to places like Karuizawa or heading overseas to world-famous destinations for ski and summer escapes," reflects Simon. "It is amazing that in this process, many of the Japanese have simply overlooked a world-class international experience right in their back yard. The pandemic and the resultant limitations of travel have resulted in a rediscovery of the national treasure of Niseko and Hokkaido."
"Many Japanese guests have taken the opportunity to visit Niseko for either the very first time, or the first time in over 10-15 years," Michael has observed. "The reaction has been unanimous wonderment about the quality of development in Niseko as a destination. With the Park Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton now open, Aman Niseko under development, and the ultra-exclusive HakuVillas fully-catered holiday experience available, Niseko is maturing into a sensational international destination challenging the likes of Courchevel, Aspen, and Whistler."
Simon hasn't seen interest from the domestic Japanese market like this in the last 20 years. "Japanese travelers are rediscovering Niseko and have realized there is no need to travel 12-15 hours overseas for inferior snow; the best ski destination in the world is right in their backyard," he explains.
Simon gliding through bottomless powder in Hirafu.
It is obvious that both international and domestic interest in Niseko is at an all time high. A potential energy is building, held back by travel restrictions that are soon to lift. People from all over the world have been 'virtually traveling' to Japan through online media, telling of the spectacular powder snow and lifestyle here on Japan's north island. There is a strong desire for everyone to get back out and see the world. Simon and Michael are positioning themselves to take advantage of this travel surge. H2 Group are primed and ready for when travel resumes once again.
For more on Niseko's future read this South China Morning Post article featuring our Co-CEOs!