TripAdvisor mascot – an owl called Ollie – has one red eye and one green eye. And like the traffic light symbols they represent, TripAdvisor and other online recommendation sites let you know through massive user content contribution which hotels are a-go, and which are not. According to Mr. Michael Stobo, the head of APAC Market Development at TripAdvisor, Japan had a record 14 million foreign tourists in 2014, and that is expected to climb to 20 million in the next five years. Now I thought that a big issue for the Olympics will be hotel capacity, since hotels in Tokyo appear to be already at high occupancy rates on average days.
But according to Mr Stobo, who spoke recently at an American Chamber of Commerce Japan event, the issue is more about inefficiency. “Lots of companies that manage properties in Japan still target mostly domestic travelers,” answered Stobo to my question. “These travel companies – like Jalan, and Rakuten- need to be more externally aware as they are so Japan focused.” “For example, Expedia may only offer 10 rooms of a given hotel to a customer, but while there is actually remaining inventory, those rooms aren’t made available to overseas customers. It’s an efficiency issue. It’s possible because they have difficulty selling in French or German, they are reluctant to make the rooms available (to non-Japanese).” Interesting! Stobo went on to say that Japan needs to continue improving the ability for the non-Japanese to navigate on their own. “It’s not just about making inventory available. Navigating the rail system is good, but at the other end, how do you get to your destination from the station? It would not be clear at all (to a non-Japanese). Western travelers are doing more independent travel here and they need more information to get around more easily.” Hopefully, when the Olympics roll around in July, 2020, Ollie’s red eye doesn’t mean “no vacancies”.