“Over the next three to six months, I’m sure, the market will be recovering and we will be expanding our partnerships. They will have so much impact when COVID-19 is over.”
For Isao’s business, the biggest issue from the pandemic has been the Japanese border closure which has meant that no leisure travelers can leave or get in. Even with special allowances for business travel, nothing is straightforward.
“A businessman can travel but a businessman has to prepare some documents [in order to travel]. And they take more than two or three weeks to prepare. Many businesses could not do that.”
The duration of the pandemic has surprised Isao, as he expected it to last “six or seven months”. This has devastated Regency’s 2020 revenue – “we lost about 95% of our business compared to 2019” – but there was crucial support available from the Japanese government to support hospitality, so that Isao’s company can “survive” the severe downturn.
Isao is also optimistic as many of the bookings from 2020 made through his company were not cancelled but simply deferred to 2021. Not only that, November and December bookings were up on the previous year and the domestic business also boomed as it was, for Japan’s locked-in tourists, “the only way that they can travel”. However, for many this has been a stop-gap solution, before the borders open and they return to international travel. Due to these restrictions and what Isao refers to as the “stress” of being locked down, there is huge pent-up demand to travel beyond Japan’s borders, particularly to the “nearby Asian countries or Hawaii” as travel further afield is being put off as the “European situation is not so good”.
“We have so many Japanese people, many people who want to go outside the country and they’ve waited more than six or seven months. Now countries have started the vaccine, it could be a good thing for 2021 business”.
There is some light on the horizon. The Olympic Games postponement to 2021 is forcing some to be hopeful that the Japanese borders will open again soon: “It might have a big effect on the economy in Japan, so the Japanese government will have more positive ideas about how to open the border and to protect against COVID-19”.
Good communication has been at the heart of managing the business during COVID-19. While no one has been flying in or out of Japan, Regency has contacted clients “almost every week” via a chat or direct mail. These communications have focused on the evolving COVID-19 situation, keeping them updated on what it means for them as travelers. The company has also sent out special experiences that the client might appreciate or tips on their next destination, keeping them hungry to travel once the situation changes.
“It has been very successful. We are communicating with clients very closely and personally and I think that’s been a more effective way of approaching clients during this time”.
Industry partnerships continue to be “very important” for Isao and Regency, particularly for the ideas that they foster. This brings with it a need to create a strategy for more – and tighter – partnerships for the postpandemic world.
“You have to find more partnerships, new partners, to discover new solutions to problems. Like with private jets: so many commercial flights were cancelled, but if clients had the budget, people would travel by private jet”.
Right now, it is a waiting game. Waiting for the implementation of the vaccine. Waiting for the border reopening. Despite this, Regency is “always contacting clients” about the situation “all over the world”, safe in the knowledge that they have “already made all arrangements” possible for 2021.
Isao Numano is the CEO of Regency Travel Group, which he has run for over 20 years. Based in Japan, the company is focused on providing memorable, experiential journeys for both Japanese and international travelers, within Japan and beyond.