Successful business in times of disease and disaster requires good training, policy focused on safety, and transparency to improve branding.
2020’s Coronavirus COVID19 is a serious challenge for the international travel industry, but there are ways to use this downtime to prepare for a more sustainable, competitive edge ready for the future markets when travel picks up and the industry recovers.
50% of Japan’s Inbound Travel Market Closed
As governments around the world restrict travel from certain hard-hit countries, Japan has joined the list of countries placing travelers in a two-week quarantine on trips from China and South Korea to go into effect March 9th, 2020 and will be in place until the end of the month. This quarantine has basically shut down 50% of the inbound market which usually comes from these two countries.
There is talk of government subsidies to companies hard-hit by the restrictions, but let’s consider a proactive approach to a business in the tourism sector experiencing downtime.
Upgrade to improve efficiency of operations
The best businesses are great at doing business with the least waste of energy, time and effort. This often requires training and efficiency upgrades. Invest in making these investments now to reap the benefits in the future.
On visits to iconic historical hotels in New York, Sydney and Tokyo, managers have told me of struggles to remodel old buildings with modern lighting, water systems, and insulation to make it more sustainable, comfortable and energy-efficient. When the hotels are busy, the upgrades take years to complete as construction is limited and certain areas of the hotel closed off so as not to disturb guests in other parts of the hotel. This is the perfect time to close the hotel, make the upgrades and reopen ready to handle increased demand in autumn when Japan’s tourism trade is expected to pick up.
Invest in staff training
This is a great time to invest time and money on staff training. A company’s staff are the face of the company and the quality of their interactions with customers can make or break a business in the competitive tourism industry. If an international company doesn’t have its own online training programs, there are some good online options that will develop creativity in addition to linguistic skills.
After teaching communication courses on business, innovation, and tourism for over twenty years, I have been able to develop training sessions for internationally-focused staff in Japan. Please get in touch if you are interested in booking an individual or group course. I have been working with local guides and staff who are currently working in hospitality or who want to work in the travel and tourism industry. The courses focus on developing insights into local appeal as well as develop more effective communication and interpersonal skills.
I often meet international visitors in Japan who say they feel lonely as most Japanese are polite and courteous, but there are few opportunities to talk with locals. So, in the course, we work on active listening techniques as well as techniques to bridge gaps in understanding between locals and visitors. Flexibility and finding good ways to add information relevant to visitor interest is a key target.
Recent news reports argue that most Japanese businesses are not ready for teleworking as there is no online infrastructure in place. While businesses scramble to set up their own online training courses, using existing online programs to maintain mental agility in lateral thinking, communication and creativity is a great idea. Masterclass has a range of high-quality online courses in English that can help users develop interpersonal skills such as storytelling, creative writing, and even comedy presented in a professional way.
In addition to using downtime to train staff, another way businesses can ride the highs and lows of international tourism demand is to offer incentives to local residents to increase demand. Hawaii’s tourism board has a long history of promoting its travel products to local residents with Kama’aina discounts. Kama’aina promotions incentivize staycations when locals enjoy staying at hotels, using rental cars and dining out in typical tourist fashion.
In Japan, all the discounts and incentives are restricted to international travelers. This does not create sustainable tourism that balances value for locals and visitors, and it fails to insulate businesses from the ups and downs of international demand. At times of natural disaster, disease or terrorism which creates steep declines in travel, tapping into local markets is key to survival.
Implement proactive COVID19 prevention tactics
Japanese taxi drivers are famous for wearing white gloves- this habit should be embraced by every business in Japan now. I heard a disease-covering journalist report his method of avoiding everything from Ebola to SARS stemmed from wearing clean gloves which were often washed and changed- he never wore masks unless in confined spaces with people coughing. Experts in the field tell us touching your face and touching surfaces is the most common mode of transmission of the disease.
So, in addition to requiring staff to wash hands regularly with soap and water, why not also implement the high-quality image of service with white-gloved service around Japan. Implementing a system of frequent glove changes at eateries, hotels, stations, bars and all service-related businesses in Japan would be a welcome change. For more sustainable operations that also have a higher-quality image than typical rubber gloves, companies should invest in hundreds of reusable white-gloves. I can envision boxes of freshly laundered white gloves positioned around hotels and stations to be used by staff who are asked to change to fresh gloves at regular intervals. Customers would notice and appreciate this classy prevention tactic.
Transparency in prevention as branding
Businesses that show they are tackling proactive measures such as a white-glove campaign will protect staff, as well as promote a more trustworthy image to nervous customers. It is essential that managers also encourage staff to stay at home if they feel sick and be transparent about this policy in order to protect staff health as well as protect the company’s image. Using this lull in customer demand to develop a telework infrastructure incorporating online learning targets is best practice during downtime.
Promoting a company’s proactive policies on social media or website CSR pages is good branding which can help businesses stand out from the crowd.