[From February Issue 2015]
Tours to inspect construction sites, such as tunnels and expressways, are generating quiet interest. The Kinki Regional Development Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism created an exclusive website called “Miseru! Genba” (Enchanting! Sites) last August to draw in visitors. “Since we maintain the infrastructure with tax money, we wanted the public to know what our job involves. So, we decided to have people come see how the work is carried out,” says MATSUO Jun of the Planning Department’s Planning Division. Anyone of elementary school age or over can visit free of charge.
Matsuo says the appeal of these construction site inspection tours is being able to see areas that will remain hidden once the construction is complete. Furthermore, “Since the construction work of the Kinki Regional Development Bureau is national government work, you can see construction on a grand scale,” he says, hyping this special feature. Also popular are rides given on the big heavy industrial machines used for construction work.
As visitors range from elementary school pupils, to students going to engineering schools, to construction industry officials, staff members with detailed knowledge of the site accompany them in order to answer any technical questions. In addition, since the conditions at the construction site change day by day, the content of the tour and the itinerary is updated frequently. Therefore, there are people who sign up many times. Although it was only held for four months last year, 2,100 people participated.
However, there are also concerns. “The primary goal of the construction site is to push forward with construction. If the numbers of visitors rises too much, there is the concern that the construction work will not progress. Because of this, one of the conditions is that we reduce the number of tours, taking only applications for groups of ten people and over,” Matsuo says.
There is a movement to make this kind of tour available as a tourist attraction. In conjunction with the Japan Society of Civil Engineering, the Japan Institute of Country-ology and Engineering, and the major construction contractors, the travel agency JTB is finding out whether this kind of construction site visit has the potential to become a sightseeing attraction.
Many visiting tours are carried out free of charge by administrations and municipalities like the Kinki Regional Development Bureau. However, FUKASAWA Reiko, section manager at JTB Domestic Travel Plan East Japan Division Business Development Section – the department in charge of this project – says, “Because we’re a travel agency we can add that little extra spice to the experience along with a narrative element that will satisfy participants.”
The first tour they planned was a construction site inspection tour of the Tokyo Outer Ring Road. Their target audience was parent and child groups who were able to pass through a section that was normally restricted to authorized personnel. The content of the tour included writing messages and signatures on the tunnel, and observing an experiment to test the strength of the concrete. They made it available to 20 pairs, but after it appeared in a newspaper, they sold out that day.
There are future concerns, too. “Because there’s the safety aspect to consider, we limit the number of participants for a single tour. Moreover, it’s a lot of work for the travel agency as it’s not possible to carry out the same tour numerous times at one site,” says Fukasawa. The work of the site manager in ensuring safety increases and bottlenecks might build up when tours are halted due to safety concerns. However, since a lot of people are hoping to sample such a rare experience, Fukasawa feels that there is enough potential for the tours to become a tourist attraction.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo