According to The Asahi Shimbun, traditional accommodations in Japan are hoping to attract more foreign tourists through the magic of modern digital technology, with the help of online giant Google.
About 30 operators of the time-honored Japanese inns attended a seminar in Kyoto on Aug. 2 hosted by Google Japan Inc.
“We want you all to achieve various goals by using the power of technology,” said Daisuke Yokokawa, head of the company's Business Marketing.
Google recommended that the innkeepers use its My Business service, which allows the name, contact information and user reviews to be displayed on Google Maps.
Businesses that join the service can also have a 360-degree panoramic view of the interiors of their establishments be shown through Google Maps’ Street View.
The service is highly useful for businesses as some of the information is automatically translated for foreign users.
However, many operators of inns in the popular tourist destination in western Japan where the availability of hotel rooms continue to be an issue were unaware that such a service existed.
Kyoto ryokan operator Masayo Ono, 32, learned the benefits of the service through the seminar.
The innkeeper signed up to My Business and requested that Google take a panoramic photo inside one of her rooms because she could not forget when a foreign tourist stepped inside a room at her inn and then left with an unsatisfied look.
“There are many tourists who refer to Google Maps, and I believe their service will keep progressing,” Ono said. “It’s very alluring that information on our inn will be posted there.”
The ancient capital has continued to see a sharp rise in foreign visitors in recent years, with 3.16 million seeking accommodations in 2015--a 73 percent increase compared with the previous year.
Studies by the Kyoto city government and other organizations have found that traditional inns have an average occupancy rate of 70.1 percent compared with the 89 percent for hotels.
Experts believe that a lack of promotion and advertisements for ryokan targeting overseas travelers is playing a role in the statistical gap between the two industries.
As Kyoto continues to see a shortage of hotel rooms, the city government is hoping for more foreign visitors to opt to stay at the city’s traditional inns.
But some ryokan operators are reluctant to see a huge influx of guests from overseas for a number of reasons. One operator said, “It’s difficult to introduce special services for foreigners because we’re a family business,” while another said, “We received complaints (from foreign guests) that our rooms and services differed from the information given beforehand.”
A city official said, “Because ryokan are a style of inns that do not exist overseas, transmitting information on them should be something especially crucial. But there is a lack of human resources that are able to take on the task.”
The Google seminar was held in conjunction with the prefectural Kyoto Ryokan Hotel Association and other organizations. Google's initial goal is to see 100 inns in the city sign up to its My Business service and gradually expand the program to ryokan operators across Japan.
“It’s such a waste that many magnificent ryokan don’t even have websites and can’t get their information across to foreign travelers,” said Sakura Tominaga, a manager of Google Japan’s Communications and Public Affairs. “We hope to first reduce hesitancy toward digitizing among innkeepers and have them use our services as an opportunity to further promote their businesses.”
Shigeki Kitahara, chief of directors of the association, said Google’s plan is a step in the right direction.
“We, too, must use digital technology if we want to survive,” Kitahara said. “We are very grateful for the latest program.”
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