Currently we are seeing a myriad of ways that the tourism industry is attempting to bring more profit to countries after the pandemic. One example of this is Japan and their new train ticket system.
By now, most of the world knows that the beloved Japan Rail Pass is going up in price by 69% starting October 1st. This is a significant increase so what will be the effect?
Previously costing just a tad more than round-trip tickets from Tokyo to Kyoto, the pass was beneficial to most if not all travelers coming to Japan. At the new price point of 50,000 yen for the standard offering, however, those purchasing the Japan Rail Pass will need to make a much more concerted effort to use it if they’re going to get their money’s worth.
While many are mourning the change in the pricing structure for the Japan Rail Pass, the hike need not be the death of affordable travel in Japan. Even at 50,000 yen, it is still a very good deal. Moreover, the current macroeconomic situation means that the yen is weak in comparison to other currencies. As a result, Japan is still largely as economical as it has been prior to the price change. The hope is that through this price increase tourists are incentivised to make more use of their ticket and travel to further destinations. In theory this would mean more money from tourism entering a more diverse range of local economies, but will this be the case? Increased travel to new areas in Japan could have a massive impact on local communities and the people most closely linked to them.
One thing that those purchasing the Japan Rail Pass will need to keep in mind is that they will need to actively try to ride more bullet trains than before to make it a good deal. For example, a standard Tokyo → Kyoto → Hiroshima route is actually cheaper without the pass if you don’t include side trips. To make the Japan Rail Pass worth it, travellers after October 1st will need to hop on and off the Shinkansen a lot more.
Luckily, Setouchi is a region that is blessed with a large number of varied destinations that are widely dispersed across western Japan. To reach many of them in an efficient manner, would-be travelers will need to make use of a series of bullet trains, something that would be cost-prohibitive without the likes of the Japan Rail Pass. Even at 50,000 yen, it would still be a steal if one were to travel like this.
The question lies as to whether this price increase actually will drive tourists to see more varied places along the rail links? It is simple to imply that people will travel differently with this change in ticket however, this would mean a change in schedules, perhaps less money being spent in other locations to compensate or at an extreme level defer people from traveling as a result of the ticket price increase.
Additionally, there is a question whether such a change should be implemented at the cost of removing traveller choice. Whilst an incentive to get the most out of the train ticket, it cannot be concluded that this will result in more spending or tourists traveling to different areas of japan. Often people are on strict budgets whilst traveling and this price increase is likely to mean that individuals spend less which in areas as a result. This of course has a negative cascade on some of the local economies of the region.
Alternatively, this incentivisation to travel more has an effect on the local environment surrounding these rail links. Not only do bullet trains have a negative effect on noise and air pollution but increased tourists to these more rural areas could pose difficulties due to less tourist designed resources. Alternatively, we may see tourists turning to other more affordable Japanese rail links or more efficient air travel when going further distances. This again could create increased unnecessary air pollution.
In practice this change in ticketing style in a positive, creating varied travel and mean people have the opportunity to experience different parts of the Japanese country side, however it will be interesting to see if this will see an increase in tourist spending in local economies or deter travelers all together.