Terrie's Take 941 (Tourism Edition) - Searching for the Top Luxury Hotels in Setouchi

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Apr 23 14:25:00 JST 2018

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Apr 22, 2018, Issue No. 941

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+++ Searching for the Top Luxury Hotels in Setouchi

One of the biggest challenges for the travel agency team at Japan Travel 
is to find places for our luxury clients to stay and memorable things 
for them to do. It's a challenge because of Japan's obsession with (and 
commitment to) with promoting the concept of everyone being middle class 
and  more or less equal - which has influenced the standard to which it 
has built its tourism infrastructure. That's why, with the exception of 
some high-class ryokan, even nicely built hotels still come with cheap 
plastic fittings, unit bathrooms, lobby vending machines, and bath 
towels the size of tea towels. Waste not, want not.

The lack of world-class luxury services and lodgings isn't yet a problem 
in Japan, because first-time visitors are generally having enough 
sensory overload to not notice too much. But for repeat-visit luxury 
guests the fact is that there are many more comfortable countries to 
spend your summer holidays.

The lack of sophistication extends across all sectors of the industry, 
from hotels and transportation to diet choices and communication. Now 
that Japan is reaching the natural top of its inbound tourism growth 
curve, if it wants to improve its bottom line margins the tourism sector 
needs to think more about the customer's own desires, and less about 
preconceived ideas of hospitality and the supplier's own convenience.

Put another way, "Omotenashi" for the Japanese is supposed to be taking 
care of the customer's every need, but the way it's practiced the 
foreign luxury guest instead sees inflexibility and skimping on basic 
choices, personal space, and luxuries. A good example is the lack of 
breakfast options in a spotlessly clean school refectory-type restaurant.

Out of all Japan, I like sending our luxury customers to the 
Kansai/Chugoku regions (Kyoto/Osaka westwards), mostly because of its 
rich culture, great food, and variety of attractions and experiences. 
Within this region Kansai, the Seto sea is a microcosm that illustrates 
the current situation for luxury travel and the challenges therein. For 
me personally, Setouchi is an easy area to identify with because its 
heart is the amazing Shimanamikaido cycleway, an attraction powerful 
enough to bring in wealthy cyclists from around the world.

[Continued below...]

----------- Rooftop Organic Brunch - Alishan --------------

Alishan Organic X Abi's Journal. Join us at the long table under the 
blue sky on Abi's rooftop in Yoyogi Uehara for a relaxing brunch. The 
Chef from Alishan Cafe will be in charge of the kitchen for the day. 
Fresh pastries, quiche, yogurt parfait topped with granola and fruit, 
and kale salad, are just a few of the dishes on the menu. In addition, 
Alishan's visiting chef from London Proof's Place will be making special 
pancakes and tofu "egg" scramble. Brunch will be served with champagne, 
coffee, tea and cold-pressed juice from Sunshine Juice. Please let us 
know if you have any allergies.

In celebration of Alishan Organic Center's 30th anniversary, the Rooftop 
Brunch price has been reduced from JPY8,000 to JPY6,000. Jack and Fay, 
founders of Alishan will be there celebrating as well!

Booking deadline: April 12th. Limited to 20 people. JPY6,000-Adults, 
JPY2000-Children (under 13)
RSVP: Call Alishan Cafe: 0429-82-4811, or online at Peatix: 
http://abialishanbrunch.peatix.com/. Payment at venue.
Venue: Grand Forest #303 Ooyama-cho 35-19 Shibuya-ku Tokyo 151-0065. 10 
min walk from Yoyogi Uehara station.
Cancellation: Notification by April 13 through Peatix, Facebook, and phone.

Facebook event page : http://bit.do/rooftopbrunch

When we plan programs for these wealthy clients (many millionaires and 
some billionaires) we know they want to have a unique experience coupled 
with a stay at least as good as they would have in Hawaii or Paris. Our 
favorite destination is Onomichi, a Setouchi city with delightful 
winding hill-side alleys and historic architecture that survived the 
War. But apart from the attractive scenery, the main reason we send 
people there is because of one particular world-class hotel called Bella 
Vista. This is a wonderful place, with views, land, architecture, food 
options, pampering, and access that leaves almost every other hotel in 
Setouchi in the dust.

To accentuate the uniqueness of the experience, Bella Vista cooperates 
with Setouchi Seaplanes to allow customers to fly in on a sea plane, and 
land at a pontoon at the base of the hotel. This is a suitably dramatic 
introduction to the area, and sets the level of expectation for elite 
visitors. For us, it allows us to bypass the urban blight on the west 
side of Osaka, and instead focus on the naturally vivid blues and greens 
of the area.

Having arrived in Onomichi and explored its streets and eateries, the 
next outstanding experience is a simple one that has been made special 
by some unknown civic leader's desire 50 years ago to serve 
non-motorists - the Shimanamikaido cycleway. Onomichi rental bicycle 
vendors have learned what customers want, and they feature of range of 
bicycle models from really cheap mama chari's, to high-end carbon road 
bikes and the latest electrics.

Once on the road, the average customer will cover about 30km-50km a day, 
and so they need somewhere to stay along the way. This is where our tour 
planners bump into the first inconvenient truth - outside the Bella 
Vista, there are no other decent hotels along the Shimanami trail - at 
least none until you go far inland in Shikoku, to somewhere like the 
Asan Kotonami ryokan near Kotohira, for example. So you have the option 
of either disappointing your guests with a low-grade minshuku on one of 
the islands for the second night, or you (as the planner) have to get 

Luckily, the Bella Vista folks are smart enough to know this, and with 
their cooperation they will lay on a motor boat to pick the cycling 
guests up at a half way point (on one of the many islands) and ferry 
them back to Onomichi with champagne and a gorgeous sunset, so that they 
can enjoy a  second night in nice surroundings. I've lost track of how 
many times I've wished that some investor had the courage to put a 
luxury-grade ryokan on one of those intermediate islands.

Looking around the Setouchi area, there are really only four or so 
hotels that I would consider "high grade" and international class. These 
are the Bella Vista of course, in Onomichi. To the west on Miyajima 
(near Hiroshima) there is the Iwaso ryokan. Not far to the east there is 
Benesse House on Naoshima. And as I mentioned earlier, to the southeast 
near Takamatsu (on Shikoku) there is the Asan Kotonami. Luckily, with 
each of these hotels there are attractive areas to explore, such as the 
world-famous Ikutsukujima temple near the Iwaso, the amazing art 
collections on Naoshima, and the Naruto whirlpools (a bit further away) 
in Tokushima.

All these locations have the same common denominators, they are located 
by stunning seaside views and are owned by people who understand guest 
needs and who have invested heavily, both financially and emotionally, 
into their areas and the visitor experience. Yes, they charge high 
prices, but  there is a steady line of devotees lining up to enjoy the 
experiences offered.

If you're planning a seaside resort, the views are your biggest leverage 
point, and the Bella Vista folks have taken this idea to the next level. 
The parent organization last year launched a new ship called the Gentu, 
which looks and feels like a floating ryokan. There are 19 rooms, and if 
you want, you can lie in your plush double bed with the wall doors slid 
fully open, and admire the passing coastal landscape while you have 
breakfast. The boat's propulsion is electric, so there is no smell or 
vibration that you would normally get from a conventional boat. Getting 
pampered in beautifully finished wood and other natural finishings 
doesn't come cheap - it's about JPY400,000 per night, but certainly the 
experience is incomparable.

Yes, I do wonder what happens if you get bad weather part way through 
the voyage, because the vessel is kinda small and bouncy-bobbing 
looking. Although a second bigger negative is that apparently the Gentu 
is booked up for months ahead already...!

Anyway, the Bella Vista folks have the right idea by manufacturing a 
luxury experience that fits the environment. With them as an example, 
you'd think that others would be attempting to introduce variations of 
the inland sea-faring experience. But, unfortunately not so. For the 
Naruto whirlpools, ships providing up-close tours are your typical 
tourist cattle boats, offering a rusty and vibrating view of mother 
nature. If you want something more refined, you need to hire a motorboat 
or yacht for several days, and make Naruto one of your stops.

The Setouchi DMO website has correctly identified cruising in the Seto 
sea as a desirable activity, but looking through the site, when it comes 
to concrete ways to do those cruises, you only have the Naruto boats and 
something called the Kobe Concerto which plies a route to/from Kobe, and 
which is more of a floating bar/restaurant than a tour boat. Instead, 
visiting tourists would be much better to take a foreign liner cruise 
around Japan that passes through the Seto sea, and see the place that 
way. But of course this doesn't make Seto a destination and puts very 
little money into the local economy as a result. Largely the cruise 
ships spend 10-12 hours in each port and the activities involved 
boarding buses, going somewhere for 1-2 hours then coming back again - 
not something that luxury travelers would find attractive.

There is a charter yacht service that looks promising, and where you can 
get the captain and crew for a very reasonable US$ 20,000 a week. The 
service departs from Uno port, which is the nearest mainland port for 
Naoshima as well. It's a shame that these guys don't do a better job of 
marketing their service and showing inspirational content - I think they 
could do a lot better than they currently are.

Another challenge bringing in high-end guests is where to park their 
personal jets. We have one client at present who is dealing with this. 
Luckily, the Seto area airspace is a bit more accessible than other 
areas of the country (Kyushyu, for example lacks both flexibility and 
aviation services) and there are a number of airports that accept 
private jet parking, including: Takamatsu, Tokushima, Okayama, and the 
Kochi Ryoma airport.

---- Picnic, Onsen experience at Hitachi Seaside Park -----

Japan Travel is proud to announce the next it its "Explore Japan" series 
of get-aways. One of the most scenic parks on the coast of Ibaraki 
Prefecture, Hitachi Seaside Park is famous for a variety of flowers that 
bloom during different seasons. For this trip, Japan Travel takes you on 
a picnic amidst seemingly never ending fields of baby blue eyes and 
other colorful late spring flowers. You will also have the chance to 
explore the attractions of this huge and fun park! After that, head to 
an onsen before going back to Tokyo!

Date: Sat Apr 28th 2018
Shop the experience here: https://goo.gl/yyVCaH

Just how much business could a hotelier or high-end service provider get 
if they were to upgrade their facilities or simply build something new 
in the Setouchi area? I believe that the Benesse experience on Naoshima 
is a good indicator. Up to 3 years ago, hardly anyone knew about the art 
island, and you could book a room in their Benesse House facility with 
relative ease. That said, the place was always double or triple the cost 
of nearby hotels, and that is without any food included in the cost...! 
Now, if you go to the Benesse House hotel website, the place is pretty 
much booked out at peak times of the year, and most of this growth is 
foreigners other than older Japanese. Instead younger Japanese just come 
across from Uno port for the day.

I believe that the Bella Vista and Benesse operations prove to us 
several things:
a) Yes, it is risky to put up a hotel or attraction in the middle of 
b) However, if that "nowhere" happens to be between two major tourist 
destinations (Okaka/Kyoto and Hiroshima) then there is a good chance 
that people will stop off along the way.
c) Art, activities, and ocean sunsets make for great visual content (of 
course) and therefore are very effective attention getters on the web.
d) Create the right rich experience and you can pretty much charge 
whatever you like. Dinner and breakfast do not need to be extravagant or 
even part of the value proposition.
e) Foreign guests see exquisite Japan in BOTH the old and the new, and 
so it is possible to create an iconic destination without having antique 
buildings to develop.

...The information janitors/


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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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