TOKYO In April, Japan Railways Group shocked international travelers thinking about taking a trip to Japan by announcing a gigantic price increase for the Japan Rail Pass. Long considered one of the best deals available for inbound tourists looking to see a large swath of the country, the “JR Pass,” as it’s also known among travelers, gives you an unlimited rides on the Shinkansen bullet train, as well as local JR-managed lines nationwide, over a period of one, two, or three weeks.
Currently, a one-week pass costs 29,640 yen, but that will be jumping to 50,000 yen. The two-week pass will be rising from 47,250 to 80,000 yen, and the three-week pass from 60,450 yen to 100,000. That works out to price increases of between 65 and 69 percent, and depending on where you’re staying and whether you’re splitting hotel costs with a traveling companion, the difference is enough to potentially equal multiple nights’ worth of hotel costs.
Needless to say, the change hasn’t been met with cheers from overseas travelers anxious to visit Japan now that the country has finally reopened from being effectively closed to tourism for almost the entirety of the pandemic. Illustrating just how unpopular is this move by JR is, Export Japan, management company for inbound-to-Japan travel portal Japan Guide, has released the results of an online poll carried out through the site in May, shortly after the Japan Rail Pass price hike was announced. When posed with the question “Will you be buying the Japan Rail Pass after the price increase?”, the responses from 1,098 participants were:
● Probably not: 36.5 percent of respondents
● Absolutely not: 36.1 percent
● I can’t say for sure: 15.5 percent
● I’ll probably buy it: 6 percent
● I’ll definitely buy it: 5.9 percent
Together, that’s 72.6 percent of prospective travelers to Japan thinking the Japan Rail Pass is something they can do without at the increased price.
There’s a piece of the picture missing in the survey, though, which is whether the 11.9 percent of people who are thinking they’ll buy the Japan Rail Pass after the price increase is a smaller group than those who have buying it at the about-to-end lower price. While it’s an inexact overlap of respondents, in a separate survey held later in May, Japan Guide asked users who have traveled to Japan before if they’ve purchased the Japan Rail Pass on a trip, and the breakdown for the 697 responses they received was:
● Yes, I have purchased the pass: 60.7 percent
● No, I haven’t purchased it: 24 percent
● I was not eligible to purchase it: 15.4 percent
That third demographic points to a necessary adjustment in measuring the situation, since it indicates that out of travelers who were demographically eligible to buy the Japan Rail Pass, 71.7 percent of them chose to do so, and so the drop down to less than 12 percent of survey participants thinking they’ll still buy it at the higher price is huge.
There’s a concern that increasing the price of the Japan Rail Pass will harm tourism-benefitting businesses and communities in less prominently promoted parts of the country. In order for travelers to come out ahead with the higher prices, that have to take more Shinkansen trips during their pass period. That might seem like it would promote going to more out-of-the-way places, but it’s more likely that the extra pressure to get their money’s worth will cause travelers to increase their focus on hitting a larger number of big-name cities that they feel more confident will justify the extra spending in terms of sightseeing attractions, such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Sendai, while skipping the smaller Shinkansen stops between them entirely.
Unfortunately for anyone hoping the survey will have JR Group scrambling to cancel the price increase, its results might not have any effect at all on the rail operator. Prior to the pandemic, there had been a sustained surge in the number of inbound foreign travelers using the Japan Rail Pass. With only so many seats available, JR may feel like it’s approaching the limit of how many passes it can realistically offer and honor. The company cited overcrowding from inbound international travelers as the reason for its decision to start requiring luggage reservations on Shinkansen trains, and it’s quite possible that JR thinks it can make as much revenue from Japan Rail Pass sales as it did before, if not more, by offsetting a lower number of passes sold with higher individual pass prices.
Still, none of that is happy news if you’re trying to keep your budget in check while planning a trip to Japan. The silver lining, for the time being anyway, is that Japan Rail Passes will stay at their lower prices through the summer, with JR saying the increase will happen sometime around October.
Source: Japan Today