By TAKUYA TANABE/ Staff Writer
January 6, 2022 at 07:00 JST
Railroad fans may think they're dreaming when they wake up in rooms looking like train cars and adorned with replicas of driver seats and other train-related goodies.
But they don't have to pinch themselves as the rooms are part of efforts being made by hotel operators connected to railway companies to attract young and old hard-core rail fans.
The rail and hotel companies are hoping to rebuild their customer base undermined by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has dealt a blow to their industries.
Among hotels taking advantage of their affiliated railroad companies’ strengths is Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kyoto-Shijokarasuma in Kyoto's Shimogyo Ward, a group company of Sagami Railway Co., based in Yokohama.
Entering its special room, guests will soon find a reproduced cab just in front of them.
While the replica is made of wood based on its actual counterpart’s design drawing, its brake valve and speed meter are real ones from the retired 7000 series and other cars of Sagami Railway.
Patrons can watch the scenery along tracks on a monitor from the driver’s seat to feel as if they were operating a train.
In addition, more than 80 items, such as ticket gate scissors previously used at stations as well as the symbol on the front of a retired 7000 series train, are on display to stir the emotions of train aficionados.
Charges for the offering start from 12,000 yen ($105) per night and up to four individuals can be accommodated there.
Yoshiyuki Maeda, manager of Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kyoto-Shijokarasuma, who described himself as an “ex-rail aficionado,” said he proposed the unique accommodation package.
“I spent one and a half years developing the room concept as my brainchild,” said Maeda. “I designed the room in a way that space can be realized where parents and children can play together through rail-linked items now that people are refraining from venturing out for leisure activities during the coronavirus crisis.”
Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu in Yokohama, affiliated with Tokyu Railways Co., set up a realistic train drive simulator inside a guest room in April 2021. The device allows visitors to operate a train via a controller formerly used on Tokyu Railways’ 8090 series.
The package has become highly sought-after since its release, with the room fully booked over the course of months.
Although it was planned initially to end at the end of August, the offering has been extended to the end of March 2022 after taking into account the room’s increased popularity.
Many other hotel operators, including Fraser Residence Nankai, Osaka, which is connected to Nankai Electric Railway Co., and Asakusa Tobu Hotel in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, affiliated with Tobu Railway Co., have pitched train-themed rooms.
Establishments financed by rail corporations are not the only facilities banking on train lovers to attract clientele.
The Royal Park Hotel Kyoto Umekoji, which opened in March 2021 in Shimogyo Ward in close proximity to the Kyoto Railway Museum, provides guests a train-themed offering to lure rail buffs and families.
Rooms are decorated not only with photos and model cars of an N700 series bullet train, a test train known as Doctor Yellow and a 500 series Shinkansen, but also with a video game to simulate train rides.
The package includes museum admission, enabling guests to fully enjoy train-themed gimmicks both in and outside the hotel.
Situated near JR Shin-Osaka Station, where many trains pass through daily, Osaka Corona Hotel in the city of western Japan has started a service whose users can view Shinkansen running just in front of them through a window from their room.
Under the package, guests can take magnificent photos of bullet trains traveling speedily along the Tokaido Shinkansen Line from up close.
SPARK FOR BOOSTED DEMAND
The government is considering resuming its suspended Go To Travel campaign to encourage people to make trips, but how the tourism industry will fare still remains unclear due to the global spread of the Omicron variant.
Maeda explained the circumstances facing his Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kyoto-Shijokarasuma.
“Whereas our reservation numbers recovered temporarily in November owing to many guests who wanted to see the autumn foliage, it is still unknown whether the situation will improve in subsequent months as well,” said Maeda. “It is totally impossible to predict when business will return to the levels before the coronavirus outbreak.”
A Sagami Railway public relations official expects catering to train enthusiasts will help railroad operators overcome the challenges.
“Fewer passengers currently use trains because of the widespread telework practice and a smaller number of guests likewise are staying at hotels amid the sluggish tourism demand,” said the representative. “We hope to inspire people to take trains on trips along tracks by having rail lovers enjoy train-related services at hotels, first of all.”
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