Japan’s independent business hotels lean toward alliances

Once seen as insular and focused exclusively on the domestic market, Japanese hotels are shifting toward international alliances to win a greater share of global corporate business.

Faced with a stagnant local market and the gradual expansion of foreign-managed hotels, Japanese hoteliers are seeking new ways to reach out to foreign business travellers.

For decades, Japan’s hotel industry was almost exclusively Japanese in both ownership and management. However, this has began to change, especially as result of Japan’s financial crisis and the bursting of its real-estate bubble in the late 1990s.

Japan also has a reputation, mostly exaggerated these days, of being expensive, lacking foreign-language services and being culturally impenetrable. No matter how much the country has changed, these misconceptions still persist and have been among the reasons why foreign business travellers sought alternatives to Japanese-managed hotels.

The first in the new wave of major foreign hotels in Tokyo was the Four Seasons Tokyo at Marunouchi, which opened in 2002. The Conrad and the Mandarin Oriental opened in 2005, and The Ritz-Carlton and The Peninsula in 2007. The Shangri-La Hotel is the most recent overseas name to appear, opening its doors last year. Toward the end of this year, a St Regis will open in Osaka, Japan’s second largest city and a significant commercial centre.

The single most ambitious foreign intervention happened in late 2006, when IHG partnered with ANA to establish a joint venture. IHG ANA Hotels Group Japan leapt to become the largest international hotel management company in Japan, with 41 hotels and over 12,000 guest rooms.

Sensing the market shift, many independent hotels are linking up with international hotel alliances to boost their share of corporate travel and take advantage of joint reservation, training and marketing opportunities as well as to tap into the managed travel segment of corporate accounts and related business meetings.

Preferred Hotels, WORLDHOTELS, and the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) are leading this major transformation of Japan’s hospitality sector, according to Yutaka Nakamura, president of the Japan Hotel Association and chairman of Royal Park Hotel. Currently Preferred Hotels has eight properties in Japan, three of them part of the Royal Park group, Leading Hotels of the World has six and WORLDHOTELS represents four properties. All are currently seeking to expand.

In Nakamura’s view, this heightened awareness of the need to appeal to international corporate travellers demands a major shift in how Japanese-owned hotels cater to the quite different needs of overseas business people

“In the past, Japanese business travellers were generally happy with a tiny room, in a hotel with few amenities and facilities. One restaurant would be enough. However, foreign business travellers look for something quite different. Larger rooms, especially for those on long trips or assignments, more business facilities and a choice of food and beverage outlets.

“The arrival of foreign hotels with different facilities and services has forced many Japanese hotels to rethink what they offer to business people,” says Nakamura.

Traditionally many of Japan’s business hotels were linked to railway and airline companies.

The Japan Railways JR Hotel Group, for example, has around 60 properties in all the key cities of Japan. These operate in regional brand clusters. Granvia has eight properties in the major cities of western Japan, such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Hiroshima and are located within, or adjacent to, mainline railway stations. In the eastern part of Japan, particularly around Greater Tokyo and Yokohama, the Metropolitan and Mets hotel brands predominate. There are also JR-branded hotels.

Nakamura’s own group, Royal Park, has three large hotels in Tokyo. He was one of the first Japanese hoteliers to see the advantages of working in international alliances, becoming a founder member of the Summit group nearly two decades ago and now part of Preferred Hotels.

Nakamura says: “About 15 percent of our business is coming through Preferred Hotels.”

A major advantage, says Kaori Yamaguchi, Preferred Hotel’s director, global sales – Japan, is that the group handles around 300 corporate accounts globally, and can deliver a significant volume of business travellers to the eight hotels it currently has in its Tokyo portfolio.

Another network that is aggressively expanding its presence in Japan is WORLDHOTELS. Currently the alliance has one hotel in Kobe and four hotels in Tokyo, the most recent being the JR Hotel Group-owned Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo.

Roland Jegge, vice-president (Asia Pacific) for WORLDHOTELS, says: “The hotel is superbly located in the heart of the city, offers fantastic value and is ideal for both business and leisure travellers to Tokyo.”

The group is also poised to widen its footprint in the country.

“WORLDHOTELS is looking into expanding our office in Japan in 2010 from one to four staff – two of whom will represent our training and technology division. Our website worldhotels.com was launched in Japanese last April and our Gateway CRS technology is currently being translated into Japanese.  We are also about to expand our portfolio with new properties in Osaka, Sapporo, Kyoto and Hiroshima,” Jegge said.

Royal Park’s Nakamura expects that with Japan Airlines (JAL) facing serious financial problems the airline will likely look to divest itself of its hotel interests, although the hotel arm is structured independently of the airline itself. Its main brands are Nikko Hotels International and JAL City Hotels.www.jalhotels.com

Should these properties be hived off or put into a joint venture, as with ANA’s properties, this could trigger another seismic shift in the country’s hotel culture.

Kenny Coyle

REVIEW: Helping the physically challenged get around the big city

Big cities can be daunting for any first-time visitor, whether he or she arrives on work or leisure. But when one has a disability, it can even prove more of a challenge to move around in an unfamiliar setting.

Wheel Away Disabled Travel – Hong Kong is the first guidebook of a series that aims to provide helpful, if not vital, information to create a productive and enjoyable experience for special travellers and their companions.

Author Sarah Fuller has compiled the material based on personal experience, having travelled many times with her father, who uses a wheelchair and her mother (his primary caregiver), both of whom are avid adventurers. A long-time resident of Hongkong, she started her research with the city she knew best, and intends to move on to other major Asian hubs and explore their provisions for the handicapped.

The handy sized booklet is thoughtfully sectioned, starting with the all-important “Planning” stage through to maps of popular areas such as Central and Admiralty on Hongkong Island and Mongkok and East Tsimshatsui in Kowloon. Fuller also inspected a range of hotels (over a 100 to be exact), observing: “It’s quite interesting what hotels actually classify as a “disability” room. Some hotels are cheeky enough to think that simply widening the door entrance and putting a hand-rail in the bathtub make a room disability-friendly!” Other details she took note of were lobby access to the street level and best table locations for the wheelchair bound in various F&B outlets, as well as measurements of guestroom front doors and bathrooms doors.

Notably missing were facts about the hotel’s meetings and conference facilities, which, perhaps, Fuller could include in a second run of the guidebook, as well as on the bigger meeting venues around the city such as the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and AsiaWorld Expo at the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA). She does, however, touch on HKIA early on in the book, describing it as well equipped to meet the needs of disabled passengers.

All in all, the information benefits not only the physically challenged but also the hearing and visually impaired and not-so-nimble seniors.

Fuller’s first attempt is commendable for the amount of detail she packed into this unique city guide. Her message is clear – getting on with one’s life or doing business doesn’t have to stop due to physical disability or serious illness that has rendered one with less mobility.

But it takes facing up to daily realities and more planning and research before each journey. A guidebook like Wheel Away can help smoothen out some of the bumps on the road.

For more details, visit www.wheelawaydisabledtravel.com

Margie T Logarta

Business Traveller March edition now live

You may not be aware that subscribers to the print version of Business Traveller can access the edition online a whole month before everyone else. All of our special reports and destination features are uploaded to businesstraveller.com each month, and the November edition has just gone live.

Subscribe to Business Traveller today for just £38, and as an added bonus you’ll receive a complimentary Regus businessworld gold card, worth an amazing £199. The card gives members access to 950 business lounges worldwide, with complimentary internet and refreshments as well as preferential rates on meeting rooms and offices. For more information and to subscribe visit businesstraveller.com/regus.

This month’s packed issue includes:

  • A look at what hotels are doing to be more eco-friendly

  • A tour of the revamped terminals at Manchester airport

  • A day in the life of an airline customer services manager

  • A round-up of four new hotels in London

  • A report on the business class offerings on Asian airlines

  • A look at some of the best meeting spaces in Belfast

  • A round-up of the best golf courses in and around Bengalaru

  • A great escape on the emirate of Fujairah

  • A look at innovations in video- and web-conferencing technology

  • A round-up of the prodcust in duty-free

  • A look at competition on the London to Melbourne route

If you are already a subscriber to Business Traveller, simply log in here (using the email address attached to your subscription), then click on the archive button on the navigation bar for full access. If you are unsure of your log in details, or have any problems accessing the archive as a print subscriber, click here to send us an email.

Hotel deals too good to miss

Get your money’s worth with these attractive hotel promotions, running throughout the year:

BRUNEI

Fit in a golf session when you next visit Brunei for business. The Empire Hotel and Country Club has an ongoing package for two nights in a two-bedroom Garden Villa at B$2,340 (US$1,639). A three-night stay is priced at B$3,420 (US$2,395). The packages include access for two persons to an 18-hole golf course and buggy usage, lounge benefits for breakfast, afternoon tea, evening canapés and mocktails, and two spa treatments. Quote “The Empire Elite Episode” at the time of booking.

www.theempirehotel.com

HONGKONG

Extended-stay packages at The Charterhouse Causeway Bay start from HK$4,888 (US$629) for seven nights in a Superior Room and HK$9,388 (US$1,209) for 14 nights, available until April 30. Benefits include free internet access, free local phone calls, fruit baskets, dining and laundry discounts and room service. Shuttle bus rides to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre are complimentary too.

www.charterhouse.com

Eaton Hotel offers a three-night Club Room package with the third night free until December 29. Room rates start from HK$1,233 (US$158) per night.

www.eatonhotels.com

Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin has a meeting package priced from HK$1,380 (US$178) per night in a Regency Club mountain-view room. It includes access to the Regency Club Lounge for buffet breakfast, light lunch, evening cocktails and canapés, use of a Regency Club meeting room from 9am to 5pm, two breaks during the meeting, and complimentary internet access. For a minimum booking of 10 rooms, the package is valid through August 31.  

www.hongkong.shatin.hyatt.com

MALAYSIA

Hotel Nikko Kuala Lumpur has a Nikko Business Plan package available through December 30. Priced from MYR888 (US$260) per night, the package includes airport transfer, accommodation in a Premier Room, buffet breakfast, in-room broadband internet, pressing of two pieces, business centre discounts, check out at 3pm and other benefits.

www.hotelnikko.com.my

SOUTH KOREA

The Shilla Seoul offers a package for two, with a choice of accommodation in a Deluxe Room at KRW280,000 (US$235) per night and a Grand Deluxe Room at KRW310,000 (US$260). Perks include breakfast, a private guided art tour within the hotel, entry to the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, duty-free shopping voucher and discounts, and free mobile phone rental. The promotion runs all year, except from July 23 to August 15 and December 24 to 31.

www.shilla.net/en/seoul

VIETNAM

Until December 20, a two-night stay at Novotel Nha Trang comes with a complimentary international dinner buffet at the Square, welcome drinks, use of sauna and steam bath and free internet access. Rates start from US$105 for a Superior King Room.

www.novotel-nhatrang.com

Julian Tan

Seatplans.com launches video channel

Seatplans.com TVBusiness Traveller’s sister publication Seatplans.com has begun to scour the internet to bring its readers airline-related video clips from across the electronic ether.

Seatplans.com TV was launched last week and features a mix of serious and light-hearted promotional videos dating back more than 20 years, such as British Airways’ iconic “face” TV ad from 1989 which introduced it as “the world’s favourite airline”.

Other videos include a tour of Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Emirates’ A380s and a look at business class flat-beds from Korean Air and Delta Air Lines. The child stars of Thomson Airways’ innovative in-flight safety video from last year can also be found there.

All videos come with links to the relevant airline’s Seatplans.com page, any Tried and Tested reviews and the most pertinent news (courtesy of businesstraveller.com, of course).

To see all these videos and more, go to seatplans.com/seatplanstv.

From Seatplans.com TV…

Thomson Airways’ innovative in-flight safety video, July 2009:

Seen a video you think should be on Seatplans.com TV? Email enquiries@seatplans.com.

Technology round-up

Businesstraveller.com brings you the latest travel gadgets and accessories to make life on the road easier. This week: a touchscreen laptop from Toshiba, Logitech’s Darkfield work-on-anything mouse, the V-Man Power Pack and stereo Bluetooth headphones from Sennheiser. Also, our first app of the week.

Toshiba Satellite U500-1EX touchscreen laptop

Toshiba Satellite U500-1EXWant a little more flexibility when moving documents around you desktop, or controlling movies and songs? Want to feel a bit like Tom Cruise in Minority Report? Well your prayers have been answered with Toshiba’s latest touchscreen laptop, the U500-1EX.  At 13.3” the U500 isn’t quite a netbook, but is small enough to be called “highly portable”. It comes with Windows 7, including Microsoft’s Touch Pack which makes the most of the touchscreen technology. Hardware specs include a 2.13GHz Intel Core i3-330 processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 320GB hard drive. At 2.15kg it could hardly be described as heavy, and if so, only when compared to the raft of freakishly lightweight netbooks out there now. There’s also in-built wifi and Bluetooth, but no 3G.

PRICE £649

CONTACT toshiba.co.uk

Logitech Anywhere Mouse MX

Logitech Anywhere Mouse MXThose fashionable glass meeting tables look great, don’t they? Great, until you try to use your mouse on them without a mouse mat. This is where the latest wireless mouse from Logitech proves its worth. Using Logitech’s Darkfield technology, the Anywhere MX can work on pretty much any surface, and glass is no problem. It also trumps the older ball-style mouse as it works on uneven surfaces. A little switch on the bottom both protects the Darkfield sensor and turns the mouse off, helping to conserve battery power. There are a few extra buttons too which can be programmed to perform different functions, like page up/down or back and forward in an internet browser. The MX is small and so great for the traveller, but still has a reassuring weight. It comes with its own carrying case, and the USB sensor can be neatly stored away in the MX’s battery compartment.

PRICE £69.99

CONTACT logitech.com

V-Man Power Pack

V-Man Power PackA major criticism of today’s smartphones is that with all the bells and whistles, their battery lives are pretty poor. The iPhone, with its large, bright screen, is one such device to suffer badly from this, as testified to by the growing hordes that have them. Still, this is great news for manufacturers of portable battery chargers such as this one, the V-Man Power Pack. The V-Man can be charged from USB or a standard power socket, and comes with attachments for a range of different electronic devices. There are connections for most makes of phone, as well as cameras, iPods and satnavs. A handy indicator on the outside lights up at the touch of a button and shows how much juice is left.

PRICE £34.99

CONTACT amazon.co.uk

Sennheiser PX 210BT

Sennheiser PX 210BTThis Bluetooth headset allows for full stereo sound without the need for wires. Although this is nothing new, Sennheiser has a reputation for great sound quality and the use of the latest industry technology and standards. It can pair with any Bluetooth device with audio, and most smartphones these days have decent music programmes. The Sennheiser 300i apt-X dongle, available separately, gives lossless transmission over Bluetooth and is specially designed for the iPod.

PRICE Headset £149.99; iPod dongle £59.99

CONTACT sennheiser.co.uk

App of the Week

In our new round-up section we focus on the latest smartphone apps out there of particular interest to business travellers. This week…

Privatefly for iPhone

It was inevitable that the first app to feature in the weekly round-up would be one for an iPhone. This particular app, from private jet booker Privatefly.com, caught our attention. Free to download, the app allows the high-end business traveller to source a private jet from his or her iPhone. The app is primarily search-and-quote software, but at the click of a button an email request is sent to the relevant jet operator. A price is then sent back, either directly to the client or via a Privatefly agent. In these straitened times not many business travellers will have the budget to charter a private jet, but it just goes to show how much you can do on your iPhone these days.

PRICE Free to download

CONTACT privatefly.com, apple.com/uk/iphone

ANA to launch Munich-Tokyo service

All Nippon Airways is to launch its own service from Munich to Tokyo Narita in July, adding to its current codeshare with Lufthansa.

As flagged on our forum earlier today, ANA will offer a daily four-class service (economy, premium economy, business and first) from July 1 on its B777-300ER aircraft, with the flight departing Munich at 2035 and arriving into Narita at the 1500 next day. The return leg will leave Tokyo at 1150 and land back into Munich at 1700.

Lufthansa is currently the only scheduled carrier operating a (daily) direct service between the two cities, with a three-class (economy, business and first) offering on its A340-600 aircraft.

For more information visit ana.co.jp.

Save 20 percent on the price of ticket to the ExCel business sustainability event – BASE

Taking place March 16-17 at Excel, BASE (Business and a Sustainable Environment) promises two-days of practical, solutions based information for business sustainability.

Keynote speakers include Ed Milliband, Justin King, Jonathan Porritt, John Gummer, Vince Cable and Charlie Mayfield, as well as 30 discrete 70-minute conference sessions, each led by experts in their fields such as David Nussbaum (WWF) and Tensie Whelan (Rainforest Alliance).

Topics include the effect of Copenhagen on business, getting started on sustainability, carbon reduction strategies, regulatory effects and supply chain opportunities.

As conference organise Andrew Dowding puts it, “Many businesses recognise that changing to a more sustainable operating model is simply a matter of doing good business. The problem is they don’t know how to do it. That is where Base comes in.”

The two-day ticket entry price includes access to the exhibition, keynote speakers, fringe events, workshops and one 70-minute conference session.

If you would like to read more about base, please visit baseshow.co.uk, and to book and receive a 20 percent discount on an entry ticket (£120 down from £150), click here.

(Unlimited access to conference sessions is also available at £275. Please phone +44 (0)1462 499677 to take advantage of this).

Ryanair passenger “eats” €10,000 scratchcard

A passenger on one of Ryanair’s flights from Krakow to East Midlands airport has apparently eaten a winning scratchcard worth €10,000.

In a bizarre turn of events even for Ryanair, the carrier says the passenger became upset when he learnt that cabin crew could not pay him his winnings there and then, and rather than wait to have his ticket verified on the ground, proceeded to eat the scratchcard.

Ryanair sells the scratchcards in conjunction with Brand Force, and says it will now give the unclaimed winnings to charity, with visitors to ryanair.com able to choose the most deserving cause from the following:

  • An Anger Management Charity
  • An Eating Disorder Charity
  • A Gamblers Charity
  • A Disruptive Children’s Charity
  • A Mental Health Charity

A spokesperson for Ryanair said:

“In the last two year’s Ryanair’s scratch cards have given away 10 cars, over €300,000 in cash prizes and over 100,000 flight vouchers.  Passengers have always been delighted to claim their large cash prizes after returning home.  Unfortunately our latest winner felt that we should have his €10,000 prize kicking around on the aircraft.

“Yesterday’s events prove that while Ryanair’s scratch cards offer large cash prizes they clearly taste great too! Crew tried to stop the air Gourmet Scratch Card eater by offering him one of our great tasting sandwiches, pizzas or snacks instead, but clearly he had much more expensive tastes!”

For more information visit ryanair.com.

Etihad to introduce “state-of-the-art” health monitors

Etihad Airways health monitorEtihad Airways is to bring 21st century medical technology to the air, in the form of new onboard health monitors that can relay vital signs to ground-based medical staff.

Like something out of a science fiction movie, the portable Tempus IC system has a full-colour display screen to give cabin crew step-by-step instructions for its use.

The device even has a camera so that crew can send on pictures as well as health metrics such as blood pressure and heart rhythm, monitored by an in-built cardiogram.

The information gathered can then be sent down to a “medical team of global experts specialised in assistance in in-flight medical contingencies,” Etihad said.

Captain Richard Hill, Etihad’s chief operations officer, said the Tempus system would allow for speedy evaluation of medical emergencies.

“This helps ensure that the passenger can receive the appropriate treatment when the aircraft lands, whether this is as a diversion or at its final destination,” Hill added.

The Tempus, designed and manufactured by UK-based RDT, will be introduced by Etihad on its A340 and B777 aircraft, followed soon after by the rest of its long-haul fleet.

For more information visit etihadairways.com.

Report by Andrew Gough