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Travel Making a reservation at a 'Ryokan'

Discussion in 'Travelling in Japan' started by Jeff3, Jan 5, 2017.

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  1. Jeff3

    Jeff3 後輩

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    Hi fellow members of JRF. By way of introduction, my name is Jeff and I live in London. I used to live in Japan many years ago , but moved back to the UK in 1984. I am now semi-retired, but until last year worked at JTB UK office for over 30years, the last 8 as General Manager of their Outbound Dept. Since going into semi retirement, I have been working on a new business venture involving Japan which I hope to launch in the late spring or early summer. The project is an online booking system specifically focusing on Japanese traditional-style accommodation (Ryokan to those who are familiar with the Japanese language). The booking engine is unique in that it translates the details from English to Japanese and transmits the enquiry by any one of more of the following - phone fax, email and SMS. This ensures that no details are 'Lost in translation' and hopefully will be help ryokans that don't have English-speaking staff to handle requests from overseas and also encourage foreign visitors to stay in traditional style accommodation while in Japan.

    Does anyone have any personal experience in not being able to book accommodation at a ryokan because of language difficulties?
     
  2. nice gaijin

    nice gaijin Resident Realist
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    So, are you talking about a standalone service that the ryokan would have to buy into (in lieu of/addition to being listed on something like kayak, hostelworld, trip advisor, etc), or are you building a translation tool for those larger booking agents to use? Is it a site where the ryokan would be listed, or is the tool meant to be put on the ryokan's own site (assuming they have one)?

    Seems like the real crux of getting a new booking agent off the ground is generating the traffic necessary to get bookings. Tripadvisor has accrued their "search capital" by offering their "yahoo answers for travel" platform, which draws a lot of folks to the site and get eyeballs on their listings.

    I've personally had no such difficulties, but I'm literate and I don't book things often (and when I have it's usually a one-off hostel stay, for which I've used hostelworld or something similar). So I'm not really your target audience.
     
  3. PatrickNZ

    PatrickNZ 後輩

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    Short answer, no, never had a problem because of language. Only due to availability being restricted to particular vendors. Sometimes accommodation places have cosy deals with particular channels.
    Of course, you also need to convince the ryokan to give up 15%-20% of their income as that is the going rate for booking engine commissions, (as you would know from your time in the travel industry) and show that your service is better than the existing suite of major players already in the same market, and offer a lower or comparable price to the customer.
    As an example, a couple of years ago I was offered access to the NTA (Nippon Travel Agency) booking engine as a partner/supplier but I didn't follow up because (in every instance I tested) I could book cheaper/easier independently.
     
  4. Jeff3

    Jeff3 後輩

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    Thanks for your comments. The website will list ryokans by price category and location. The target market will be small independent ryokans that want to attract foreign visitors, but don't have English websites or English-speaking staff. I agree with Patrick that it will be difficult to compete with the major players in the market place, but there are still a considerable number of family-run ryokans that still rely on phone and fax as the only method to take bookings.
     
  5. KyushuWoozy

    KyushuWoozy Sempai
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    Yes, I'm always amazed by the number of places that won't correspond by email (nor accept payment by credit card). Seems the 21st century has passed them by. But then I suppose 'traditional' is one of their big selling points.
     
  6. Mike Cash

    Mike Cash 骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう

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    Some small businesses are as busy as they want to be doing things just the way they are and don't want to pay fees that they've gotten along fine not paying so far. Seems odd, maybe, but there are people like that.
     
  7. PatrickNZ

    PatrickNZ 後輩

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    Good having a target, but there is also the other side of the equation - the people that want to book a ryokan knowing there are no English speaking staff. That seems a little tricky finding a match (and the business model appears to be a match-making one). Anyway, it sounds an interesting idea and has potential.

    From experience, dealing with accommodation, restaurants and activities where there is no English can be some of the most rewarding experiences for tourists, but it gets really hard because most tourists only have a few words of Japanese (and the guys on the TripAdvisor forum don't help because they keep peddling the line that no one needs any Japanese to experience the best of country).
     
  8. Jeff3

    Jeff3 後輩

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    The main USP of our business model is that the ryokan only need to have a telephone to be able to receive, action and respond to any booking enquiry from international markets. In reality, most ryokans will also have access to either a fax machine or emails. In essence the booking system is a sophisticated translation service which will eliminate any language issue between the booker and ryokan. I do agree that staying at a ryokan where English isn't spoken adds to the enjoyment and uniqueness of experiencing authentic Japanese 'omotenashi'.
     
  9. johnnyG

    johnnyG 先輩

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    (Ah, the good old fax machine... As you develop this biz, please be aware that there are other Japan-based forums where mere mention of a using a fax would evoke jeers and howls.)
     
  10. JArghS

    JArghS Kouhai

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    I was able to book a Ryokan via Airbnb and also via Booking.com without much issue. Admittedly, I believe these are fairly 'modern' in that they were both online, one offers continental breakfast and the other has a modern looking bathroom.

    I like the idea, mind you.
    Though I think if there was a way to list these traditional, 'old fashioned' Ryokan on already established sites (Booking.com for example) it would provide more business to the Ryokan than yet another travel booking site.
     
  11. Jeff3

    Jeff3 後輩

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    The problem with Booking.com and other major players from the small ryokans' perspective is their fees are extremely high and as such many ryokans are reluctant to use them. In order to compete with these sites we will offer a different pricing model.
     
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