In 3 days from March 1st to the 3rd, 2016, 「Hokkaido Snow Travel Expo 2016 in KIRORO」was held in the KIRORO RESORT and the surrounding facilities that locate at Akaigawa-mura, Hokkaido. With the purpose of attracting foreign tourists to visit, many travel agencies and media were invited from abroad and guests were given an opportunity to experience snow resorts in Hokkaido, which boasts the world's best snow quality. 13 snow resorts and relevant local governments hosted the event. The event is held once per year in ski resorts of Hokkaido and this was the 5th year. This year 49 people visited from 18 countries and areas such as Asian countries, Australia, and European and American countries, and they experienced powder snow as well as interaction with relevant organizations and local people.

Photo and Article by Nobuhiro Kawashima

About the KIRORO RESORT

The KIRORO RESORT is a full-blown snow resort with comparably good accessibility, 2 hours from Shin-Chitose Airport by car, 1 hour from Sapporo city, and about 40 minutes from Otaru city. In addition to "KIRORO SNOW WORLD" where you can enjoy top class snow quality in Hokkaido, there are "The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido", an accommodation opened in 2015, and "SHERATON HOKKAIDO KIRORO RESORT".

Communication at first

At 10am, a brief explanation about the event was provided at the beginning, "team building" to exchange greetings and enhance communications was facilitated. Total attendance was about 100 including 49 foreign guests and host members of Hokkaido. All attendees had previously never met, so they started with fun activities instead of formalities.

The "team building" consisted of team games in competition against other teams. The initial plan was to have a tug of war on snow outside, however, the plan was changed to have it inside due to the stormy weather in the morning which even closed major roads nearby and stopped lifts on ski slopes. The attendees were split by areas into 10 teams with 9-10 people each and played matches having team colored headbands. All teams competed over 3 major games to gain points and the top scoring team could get a prize of local specialties and products.

The games were athletic, for example, moving a hula hoop through all team members in a circle connected by grasping hands with each other, or playing the game of rock, paper, scissors by full body expressions.

All attendees, whomever hosts or guests, played by grabbing hands and shoulders regardless gender, regions, and nationalities and the whole venue was filled with laughing and enthusiasm. In the closing, all people gave shoulder massages to each other.

Greetings by hotel staff after taking a break.

The attendees had a lunch after a lively team building program and the hotel staff of KIRORO RESORT made a greeting message. From 1pm, the hotel staff led a tour at the "SHERATON HOKKAIDO KIRORO RESORT".

One seriously asked a question about hotel room size and usability and another, a westerner, was interested in Tatami rooms. Are questions based on national characteristics?

Instead of a powder snow experience in Hokkaido!, a snowstorm experience!?

After the hotel tour, one of the main event contents started, which was the ski/snowboard experience program by instructors or foreign exchange student instructors from snow resorts over Hokkaido.

The strong, snowy wind became less, however the wind still drifted up powder snow to be all white. Conditions were not good and it was just briefly possible to run a lift on the family slope and ski. Guests barely could ski.

Most of guests had never experienced skiing or snowboarding and it was big deal for them just to wear boots or attach ski/snow boards, let alone to stand on slope! Some instructors explained how to buckle boots and boards by supporting hands-on. Of course, all instructions were in English.

The ski team started to raise a leg at first. It was very hard for beginners.

The snowboard team started to learn basic actions at first. Unfamiliar snowboard actions often made guests unbalanced and led to them falling.

After basic lectures, it was time to debut on the slopes! Guests rode a lift going up on a slope.

Instructors led guests to ski down slowly. All guests skied down without failure better than expected, maybe because of a gentle family slope. Some guests were even able to wave to cameras.

It looked like all guests still focused only on skiing instead of enjoying the snow quality. Luckily or unluckily the weather was stormy, so powder snow fall anyway. Though snow blew around and even collected on attendees themselves they could brush away the snow easily, which might have made guests experience powder snow without intention…!? We hope all foreign guests enjoyed the snow quality in Hokkaido.
After a 2-hour ski/snowboard experience program, all guests shifted to the next location "The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido" that is a big scale snow resort built in the nature. The hotel still locates inside KIRORO RESORT property but we took a bus to get there due to the distance.

Know snow resorts in Hokkaido

From 7pm, at "The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido”, a key note speech about snow resorts in Hokkaido was provided. In addition to foreign guests and hosts from the snow resort industry in Hokkaido who attended earlier programs, new attendees from the hotel industry and travel agencies in Hokkaido joined and the total attendance size suddenly became around 150.

Two speakers made key note speeches. The first speaker was Mr. Takahiko Yajima, the director of sales organization in Japan, Korea, and Guam, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Fluent in English, he introduced three facilities that the Starwood Hotels & Resorts launched in Hokkaido and explained how competitive and attractive the snow resorts are in Hokkaido and local features of KIRORO, compared to other locations in the world.

The next speaker was Mr. Tomoki Takaku, the representative of POWDER SNOW COMPANY K.K. as well as a professional snowboarder and guide. He appealed that Hokkaido snow resorts, compared to other ski resorts in the world, are rare with both a combination of superb quality of snow and a fascinating location and surrounding that is located at a low altitude in populated and developed areas.

Enjoy Hokkaido foods and Japanese culture!

After key note speeches, the welcome party was offered at a large hall in the hotel. Guests were led to come in, a toast greeting was made, and everyone regardless of nationalities or titles saluted with their glass.

Cuisines that were made from Hokkaido local ingredients were served in an array such as roasted local beef with herbs, smoked salmon, sashimi raw fish and sushi, and local crab with miso paste sauce.

An eye-catching booth was a mound of snow crabs. It is a rare opportunity to see that huge pile of crabs even for Hokkaido people so everyone was amazed with it.

Varieties of drinks were also served such as the Hokkaido limited version of Sapporo Classic and a line-up of wines from local wineries in Otaru, Yoichi, and Toya. You must be induced to try a Hokkaido wine tasting!

As wine sommeliers explained the locations of the vineyards, bottles became empty one after another, and some kinds of wines ran out later! It was a good opportunity to appeal the emerging Hokkaido wines in addition to snow resorts in Hokkaido.

Timed with satisfying food, some entertainments were presented and attendees kept taking pictures and sharing pictures in chat.

A promotion video introduced the Sapporo Asian Winter Games 2017 and a local image character "Ezomon" showed up in the video. Ezo Momonga, local flying squirrel, is the model of the character and the character's favorite activity is winter sports.

Japanese cultural entertainments that are novel to foreigners were provided too. The picture is the Akaigawa-caldera-drums that is inherent in the Akaigawa local area. You feel shaken when you look close at them! It is just like packing a punch.

The next was a masterpiece writing performance by Kao Ishino, a master penman. He ran a gigantic writing brush on the stage in time to the caldera-drum music.

At the end, the ceremony for the winning teams of the team building games in the morning were held. Each team was called in order from the third to the top and they were cheered round after round. A package of assorted sweets of Akaigawa Naganuma Farm for the third position, locally made tomato juice for the second position, and local home-brewed sake for the first position were presented to all members in each team.

The party was closed after entertainments and the prize ceremony. It is a common custom to close a party by "Kampai" cheers in Hokkaido. It is a bit weird for non-Hokkaido people, however, this is the Hokkaido local rule.

After closing with "Kampai" cheers, souvenirs like Sapporo Classic beers were handed to all guests at the exit door. It looked like people felt sad to leave the party and many people kept standing and talking around the venue and hall ways with the night extending longer.

Matching foreign countries to Hokkaido

With aftereffects of excitement from the previous night still remaining, the second day came. The day was the most important day in the whole event. That was the business meeting between foreign guests and Hokkaido agents.

About40 organizations from the Hokkaido side attended such as snow resorts, accommodations, local governments, tourism boards, travel agencies, and transportation companies. From 9am to 3pm, 11 business meeting slots, 15 minutes per meeting, were conducted.

Purposes of the attending organizations varied. Some organization positioned the event as an important negotiation opportunity directly with foreign business agencies. Others took the event as a marketing research information source to understand foreign markets and needs. Regardless the purpose, this program allowed attendees to communicate with diverse countries and areas in fixed length of time, which turned out to be a fruitful opportunity.

Exchange with locals

After business negotiations, guests relaxed by communicating with locals. All guests transferred from KIRORO RESORTS to the gymnasium of the Miyako elementary school in Akaigawa village by a 20 minute bus ride. The students welcomed guests with origami-paper craft crane necklaces.

Local farmers served Kinako-Mochi, sticky rice cakes with sweet soybean flour that are made from their home-harvested rice by demonstrating the traditional sticky rice making method.

Locals lectured how to create a wreath and masterpiece writing, and some guests earnestly focused on experiencing them! Both locals and foreign guests smiled and the whole assembly became very cheerful.

Tea ceremony and musical play performance with Shamisen, a Japanese traditional 3-stringed instrument, were iconic.

The program was closed by taking group pictures with the Akaigawa local image character "Akarin"! Was it an unforgettable memory in Japan for guests!?

Guests left the gymnasium and shifted to "Michinoeki Akaigawa", a roadside service station, by a couple of minute ride on buses.

Guests had dinner here, a feast of local foods that were prepared by locals.

Homemade cuisines with local products such as fried winter potatoes, veggie soup with under-snow-aged cabbages, and Gobo (burdock root) and carrots wrapped with meat, were lined up. Sakura cherry flowers and Hina Dolls, a traditional miniature model set of a royal couple wearing formal kimono costumes, were displayed in the facility to make guests enjoy Japanese culture.

After enjoying heartfelt hospitality, guests went back to KIRORO RESORTS by bus to end the second day.

Local tour on the last day

Guests were split to 4 groups and went on tours to Sapporo, Niseko, Otaru & Yoichi, and Kiroro & Yoichi during the whole of the last day.
The Sapporo course was designed for first visitors of Hokkaido. The tour visited "Sapporo Teine Ski Resort", "Mt. Okura Winter Sports Museum" that has ski jump facilities, and "Shiroi Koibito Park".
The Niseko course went on a tour of tourism facilities that target upper class tourists from western countries. The group tried skiing in the "Niseko Grand Hirafu", visited a local sake brewery "Nisekoshuzo" and luxury hotels.
The Otaru & Yoichi course contained tourism spots around the KIRORO RESORT. It was a good opportunity to appeal the surrounding tourism resources by visiting "The Nikka Whisky Distilling" that had suddenly became famous due to a popular TV drama series, walking along Otaru Canal, and visiting a winery "Hokkaido Wine" that locates between Otaru and KIRORO RESORT.
Kiroro & Yoichi course was designed for families. The group experienced activities at the snow park in the KIRORO RESORT and enjoyed dining and shopping at "Occi Gabi Winery" and "The Nikka Whisky Distilling".
There are many attractive places including KIRORO RESORT and you will never get bored even during a long stay. Some guests certainly felt like that.

Fireworks finale!

When guests were back from local tours, the last program of this event, the farewell party, was prepared in the "RESTAURANT ALLA MODA" at the second floor of "The Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Hokkaido".

Casual styled Italian dinner party.

Although it was casual style, chefs served prosciutto, pasta, and pizza from serving counters, which made guests feel like an upper class banquet. Finally, it was time to relax and enjoy the last night feast by reflecting on good memories.

At the end, guests went outside and looked up to the dark sky…! fireworks illuminated the sky as the finale and 「Hokkaido Snow Travel Expo 2016 in KIRORO」was closed.

The 4th「Hokkaido Snow Travel Expo」held in the Sahoro Resort last year led to about 8,000 tourists totally that generated about 1.2 billion yen. It was full of smiles and laughs by foreign guests during these 3 days at the event, which produced a similar result compared to last year or even better. It will not be long to see ski resorts in Hokkaido bustling with more foreigners.

HOKKAIDO SNOW TRAVEL EXPO

The invitation event that is produced by the Hokkaido Ski Promotion Council. The Hokkaido Ski Promotion Council is co-operated by member entities with the purpose of attracting foreign tourists to visit through winter sports and snow activities including skiing and to promote international tourism in the area.
http://www.skiing-hokkaido.com/