JTB and Panasonic’s LUGGAGE-FREE TRAVEL Prepares For The Upcoming Big Events In Japan
Sponsored by JTB Corp., Panasonic Corp. and Yamato Transport Co., Ltd
One of the biggest Japanese companies, JTB, Panasonic, and Yamato Holdings are preparing for upcoming big events, such as the Rugby World Cup 2019 and Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games in 2020.
We interviewed them about the story behind the development of LUGGAGE-FREE TRAVEL.
A New Form Of Tourism On The Horizon
The number of tourists coming to Japan
(Source: Japan National Tourism Organization)
With the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, as well as the World Masters Games in 2021 and the Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan is drawing the attention of the world with a range of ongoing global events. The goal is drawing 40M inbound visitors by 2020 and 60M by 2030.
Increasing the number of tourists coming to Japan is key to achieving sustainable tourism initiatives around the country. Various efforts are now underway to shore up Japan’s infrastructure and make it easier for inbound travelers. Key points implicated in tourist satisfaction are the appeal of destinations and convenience factors, as well as the hospitality of personnel at various sites.
In some cases, the accommodation facilities and infrastructure, such as public transport, in major cities still lag behind, despite these being key destinations for large numbers of tourists. Complications include stairs in train stations, difficulty getting onboard trains during rush hour, or roads and pathways being uneven. This makes manipulating a heavy suitcase quite the challenge.
JTB, Panasonic, and Yamato Holdings, some of Japan’s foremost leading companies, came together to develop and launch the new Luggage-Free Travel service to meet these needs.
We sat down with representatives from each company to learn more about what went into developing this service.
(from the left)
Yukari Araki: handles operations at the JTB Luggage-Free Travel secretariat
Masaharu Higeta: handles systems at Panasonic System Solutions Japan
Harumi Tanaka: handles organizational alliances in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Promotion Division of Panasonic
What Led To This New Service From Three Of Japan’s Top Firms
What key issues did inbound tourists to Japan face?
How Panasonic and JTB partnered to analyze the true essence of travel
Tanaka: While many solutions we develop continue to evolve day by day, there was still one area of concern: resolving the pain points faced by inbound travelers, such as linguistic barriers and the need for Wi-Fi coverage. We decided to sit down and explore what issues Japan still needed to resolve, or what was lacking, in terms of making the travel experience better for visitors. However, we knew that simply treating surface-level technical or infrastructure issues was only the beginning, and would not lead to substantive change of the real issues.
In a questionnaire we ran, many people reported difficulties with moving their luggage around. Many people also temporarily deposit their luggage with hotels after checking out, and we received a lot of feedback from hotel staff about the lack of storage space and the challenges in accommodating these requests.
The average length of stay by inbound tourists exceeds ten days. Over a long stay, luggage only increases as tourists make purchases. Since they’ve come all this way to experience the different culture, scenery, and seasons that Japan has to offer, it would be a shame to not give tourists the opportunity to fully stretch their legs and travel far and wide. As we explored this issue, we came to realize that many people give up on more elaborate travel plans because of their luggage.
We spent about 18 months brainstorming a solution and decided we had to go beyond just offering luggage shipping services, but promote the actual value -- as an experience -- that travelers stand to gain by traveling hands-free. We decided to partner with Yamato Holdings, experts in transport solutions, to handle the actual shipment process for the Luggage-Free Travel service.
Higeta: As it turns out, with the exception of Japan, most countries do not have a service for shipping personal luggage by courier. Therefore, when we asked inbound tourists what sorts of luggage-related services they might like to have, they didn’t have the context to even suggest something like luggage shipping, since it was unfamiliar to them. And for our part, when traveling overseas, we had never encountered a scenario where, for instance, you would travel to the US and then deposit luggage in LA to be shipped to New York. It’s surprisingly uncommon. So we had the sense that Panasonic, JTB, and Yamato Holdings could come together to offer this as a totally new, fresh service.
We want inbound tourists to experience just how convenient travel truly can be when you travel luggage-free throughout your entire journey.
Making Travel A Continuous, Unbroken Experience
Araki: While there are some services for temporary storage of luggage, such as coin-operated lockers, you ultimately have to come back to retrieve your luggage and put it in a vehicle. This can even be quite dangerous when trying to fit luggage into a train during Japan’s congested rush hour. In terms of costs, having to temporarily store your luggage at each point of your journey, such as traveling from a ryokan in Kyoto to Kyoto Station, then boarding a bus or train to your next destination, quickly adds up. Furthermore, temporary storage tends to be lacking in terms of capacity, so you ultimately end up using taxis or other services to get all of your luggage where you want. As a result, not only is the process inconvenient, but it’s expensive. It would be vastly more convenient to get your luggage right from the ryokan you are staying at to your final destination.
Tanaka: Users of the service can apply both before arriving in Japan or during their stay, then enjoy touring the sites hands-free and let their heavy luggage arrive at their destination on its own. Doing this at each leg of the journey with Luggage-Free Travel creates an unbroken experience of travel -- we believe this will usher in a new way to travel Japan.
Araki: The name Luggage-Free Travel comes from the idea of enjoying travel in a stress-free and hands-free fashion. This lets people avail themselves of public transport with no burdens, and keeps public transit safer and more convenient for other passengers.
A Robust Support Structure Offers Peace Of Mind
Araki: In 2017, two years after launching the service, we launched a questionnaire to about 500 users. When the results came back, 28% of people said they knew about services to deposit luggage while traveling in Japan, but only 3.9% said they had availed themselves of these services. It was much lower than we expected.
As we analyzed why the service was still not a household name and not being used, we came upon three psychological causes of concern for users. Primarily, they were concerned about their logic being broken, lost, or delayed. So our goal was finding a way to resolve these three points.
Higeta: As mentioned earlier, there are few services overseas for shipping of personal luggage. Therefore, it seemed that many people had some psychological hurdles to overcome in terms of accepting this new service.
Araki: In a subsequent questionnaire, we found three other issues beyond the psychological ones. The first was linguistic barriers to using the service; the second was having to prepare Japanese shipping labels by hand; and the third was having to pay in cash.
We set about designing the service to handle the three psychological aspects and three physical blockers.
How did you go about making the service more approachable in terms of the psychological hurdles?
Tanaka: Even if using an online service, we felt that thorough communication to the end user was critical to making them feel at ease. We reflected on our own experiences of using services overseas and having various questions and concerns prior to booking or using them. Therefore, we implemented a chat functionality and a call center to accommodate users’ questions. These can be used as early as the initial booking phase, and support multiple languages.
In addition, we automatically send e-mail notifications when the luggage is picked up and loaded on a truck, when the user’s card is processed and charged, and when the luggage is delivered. In addition to this communication before and after the fact, we also offer robust support services to cope with possible adverse events like damage or delays. In terms of submitting luggage shipment details and credit card information for payment, we referred to online hotel booking sites to develop a simple and intuitive UI and UX that users could relate to.
Eliminating the concerns inbound tourists have also allows for personnel at the various facilities they use and stay to better work with them in a seamless manner. We believe this is a testament to the Japanese standard of quality and peace of mind.
Implementing New Ways To Use LFT And Creating A Better Service
Araki: We initially built the service around the idea of using it for trips between airports and hotels, and between two hotels, but we came to see that users would also want to use it to ship additional souvenirs or items they bought during their trip. More customers are now using the service to, for example, ship items from Tokyo to Kansai International Airport on the third day of their trip, then from Hida Takayama to Kansai International Airport, and so on. This lets them stay unencumbered and hands-free throughout the duration of their journey.
Tanaka: In this way, the term Luggage-Free Travel has come to encompass a lot of different use cases. That includes LFT as a total travel concierge solution to shipping customers’ luggage per their hotel itinerary, LFT as a convenient and simple tool for the end user to quickly book online, or LFT for small groups led by tour operators. It is used in diverse ways. Our hope is that whether the customer is traveling solo or in a group, they will find new ways of getting the most out of the service.
You currently partner with select locations. Are you planning on expanding this coverage?
Araki: Yes, we are. Since JTB operates this service, it allows for sending luggage to about 12,000 hotels nationwide at present. We have a unique network that other firms cannot offer, which lets us reach deep into local regions and still offer coverage. Having more touchpoints with consumers increases recognition of the service, which we believe is key in terms of getting more users onboard.
Higeta: I wholeheartedly agree. Currently, hotels are the main point where users can deposit luggage. However, we have also gotten feedback from people who want to use the service outside of a hotel context, so we’d like to offer more points in key locations within cities.
Tanaka: As we head towards 2020, overnight accommodations are diversifying, such as people renting private residences. We’d like to expand to accommodate beyond hotels. We believe this is a prime opportunity to expand our service coverage and offer more touchpoints.
Major city centers are struggling with a lack of capacity to meet “overtourism” demands, and regional destinations have transit and transport dilemmas associated with the challenges of using multiple transport routes to get there. What solutions do you see to these issues?
Tanaka: In terms of 2018 performance, use of the service at Narita Airport and Haneda Airport was highest, with Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto -- major city destinations -- also dominating the numbers. Going forward, people will probably start fanning out to more remote regions, so this requires the local communities there to think about how to accommodate this surge in travelers.
Higeta: As people gain more exposure to regional destinations and extend their travel routes, popular destinations like Kyoto and Osaka may become less congested. Therefore, when people from other, more remote regions face the challenges of handling travelers’ luggage, we want to be there to offer an integrated solution.
Tanaka: Personally, my goal for the near future is to segment transport of people and transport of goods such that the speed at which travelers and their luggage move are on totally separate vectors. People can have richer experiences, traveling unfettered where they want to go, while their luggage travels straight to where it needs to be, skipping unnecessary steps. We hope this becomes the norm going forward.
JTB is involved in a range of initiatives to foster local exchange, so we are excited to see where this service develops.
The time you have during a trip overseas is limited. This solution allows you to save precious time and not waste it on looking for where to store your luggage, letting you travel freely and with ease.
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