Japan wants more visitors who don't wear suits and ties

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Room Key: Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo

Address: Tokyo Midtown, 9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Phone: 011-03-3423-8000

Reservations: (800) 241-3333

Web:www.ritzcarlton.com

Rates: Start at about $526

Commission: 10%

Review: This 250-room property, which opened this year, occupies the top nine floors of the tallest building in Tokyo. It also has the most expensive presidential suite in all of Japan, priced at $20,000 per night. Standard guest rooms are amply sized, with stunning views and huge bathrooms. The large spa and fitness center is attractive and well equipped. The hotel lobby's high ceiling and striking decor enhance the city views just outside the window. Its four on-site locations for dining and drinking make great meeting places.

Tokyo has long been known as a business destination. But if the city government has its way, leisure travelers will increasingly consider it a vacation hot spot.

"The Tokyo metropolitan government is trying to increase the number of foreign visitors," said Yuko Homma of the tourist promotion department at the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In 2006, the Tokyo CVB traveled to New York, Chicago, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, to produce events to encourage more visits, and they are considering a similar effort this year.

"That has helped people to know what Tokyo has to offer," Homma said. "But Tokyo is still not as popular with leisure travelers as other destinations."

According to the Japan National Tourist Organization, more than 7.3 million foreign visitors arrived in Japan in 2006, a 9% increase over the year before; about 4.9 million were tourists, a 14% increase over 2005. The number of tourists from the U.S. increased 1.9% to 38,267.

The city also hope for a boost in awareness from its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee will choose a host city in 2009. If Tokyo gets the Games, the city would build a 100,000-seat stadium, the largest in the nation, as a centerpiece for the event.

It's not as expensive as you think

Homma said that the perception that Tokyo is a pricey destination is incorrect.

"Traveling in Tokyo is not expensive," Homma said. "There are luxury places, top hotels and restaurants, but we also have economy hotels."

Plus, with the U.S. dollar strong against the Japanese yen, this city is more affordable than in past years, bringing even luxury travel into a more affordable price range for travelers from the U.S.

Tokyo may have lots to offer in a variety of price categories, but the developments making the biggest splash right now are in the luxury market. The city is in the midst of a growth spurt that has resulted in several new retail, hotel and cultural complexes.

The Roppongi district, once known primarily for its nightlife, is home to the city's biggest new development, Tokyo Midtown, which opened this year. The 25-acre commercial and residential complex, set on what was once the home of the Japanese Defense Agency, now boasts the city's tallest building, the Midtown Tower; three art galleries, including the Suntory Museum of Art; and the Galleria, a mall where visitors stroll on hardwood floors and shop for the latest fashions from Restir, J. Lindeberg and Arnys Paris. 

A quick walk from Tokyo Midtown is the new National Art Center, which opened in March and exhibits a variety of international contemporary and modern art.

Tokyo Midtown is also home to the city's newest and tallest luxury hotel, the 250-room Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo (see Room Key). The 314-room Peninsula Tokyo will open this September in the Marunouchi business district, and the 204-room Shangri-La Tokyo will open in March 2009.

New tour options

Targeting the luxury travel market is Bespoke Tokyo, a new tour operator that limits its customized tours to groups of three or less.

Bespoke Tokyo's luxury safari costs just over $2,000 a day and includes a welcome package of literature, a hybrid car with driver, lunch and a memento of the day. The company's services are also available without frills at an hourly rate.

Tokyo-based Elite Japan Travel has added tour programs, including a tea ceremony, a flower arranging class and an incense ceremony.

Even traveling to and from Tokyo has gotten a bit more luxurious, thanks partly to ongoing upgrades at Narita Airport. American Airlines has relocated to Narita's Terminal 2 this year, allowing for quicker connection times between American and airlines in the Oneworld alliance.

With the move, American also unveiled a spacious, 13,300-square-foot Admirals Club lounge.

The new lounge has two business centers, free wireless Internet access, shower facilities and a large dining area.

American has also redesigned its first- and business-class menus to offer improved Japanese-Western fusion cuisine on its Tokyo flights.

For more information about Tokyo, call the Japan National Tourist Organization in New York at (212) 757-5640, visit www .jnto.go.jp or visit the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.tcvb.or.jp.

To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].

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