According to The Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese firm was unable to send its representatives in person for the talks, so it contracted with the travel agency to set up the next best thing.
HIS arranged the meeting venue and offered an interpreter to help the Japanese company communicate with local firms through an online conference call.
"We could successfully complete our business talks, even though we could not visit our customers directly," said an official of the Japanese firm, expressing gratitude for the service.
While the pandemic dealt a major blow to travel and tourism industries around the world, it has opened up new opportunities for travel companies and firms that have a strong local presence in countries where Japanese companies do business.
New services like this one are starting up to cater to companies that normally send representatives overseas, but have suddenly found those employees landlocked from travel restrictions and forced to work remotely.
Though travel representatives lack industry-specific knowledge, online video conference systems are enabling them to outsource various services that otherwise might not be possible.
The Rental HIS service started in June, leveraging its local employees stationed at 163 cities in 69 nations outside Japan.
The new service includes coordinating business meetings, on-site inspections, and local market research, as well as various tasks otherwise impossible to carry out without boots on the ground.
Five years ago, HIS began a more limited program for doing overseas research for Japanese companies.
Because of the pandemic’s shakeup to the travel and tourism industries, many of its local staffers suddenly found themselves with a lot less to do. But with corporate demand for this kind of remote-assistance service expected to grow, HIS decided to refocus those workers, build off its success from its research program and expand its offerings by launching the new Rental HIS platform.
Prices for the new service start from 100,000 yen (US$ 942) for research into 10 or so local businesses in a country. Holding a sales meeting with a possible customer costs 30,000 to 50,000 yen.
HIS has already received dozens of requests to purchase materials or carry out other tasks in Asia and Europe, company representatives said.
"The advantage of our local staffers is that they have connections with local communities," an HIS public relations official said. "Our service is cheaper than taking trips to abroad, so we want customers to ask for anything--even if it is seemingly unimportant--without hesitation."
Business Engine Asia Pte Ltd., a marketing firm based in Singapore, began aggressively promoting a new service based out of other Asian countries during the pandemic.
Its core business used to only entail conducting surveys and carrying out business talks on behalf of its clients in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
But now, it is receiving an increasing number of new kinds of requests, like being asked to visit a local factory to do quality assurance inspections.
Kenichi Kokuwa, president of Business Engine Asia, said because people were asked to stay home during the pandemic, Japanese business operators were forced to hold more meetings online and have since gotten used to working remotely. He said this has made companies less hesitant to use local representatives instead of their own employees.
"I expect overseas business trips will gradually be replaced with online alternatives in the era of the coronavirus," he said.
His company’s employees use Zoom and other video conferencing apps to inspect metal molds and other tools at overseas plants. They also share smartphone videos with the client firms in real time.
Customers can provide the firm with specific instructions, such as to "show the back side" of an object when filming at a site, so the staffers who may lack expertise in a given field can still provide the proper support needed.
The company’s representatives are also fluent in the local languages.
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