Is there a particular you are asked almost daily, something so frequently asked that you rank it on the same level as “Are we there yet?” What would that question be and does your answer vary over time? Is it based on who is asking? Are you the consistent type that responds with the same answer down to the syllable and word count? For Big Five the question is centered around when we will begin actively offering Japan. I think I get that question at least twice daily and have had to politely decline most requests.
Now, you may be wondering if I am certifiable or just plain nuts. Though there is a plausible reason for both in my case, the math is the real reason, and it never lies. When Japan’s borders first opened, we focused on letting those who postponed their pre-pandemic journeys access to be among the first to explore Japan. When we started to accept general inquiries, we noticed some issues with the infrastructure short-circuiting due to demand outstripping supply. When we dug deeper, we saw repeated patterns of stop-sell notices, and then announcements of new tourism taxes to slow the tourism momentum to a more manageable level. We worked for 50 years to earn your trust, and we don’t take it lightly. We show it with actions over simply telling you to trust us, and in this case, waiting was the right thing to do.
The shortage of guides, drivers, and tourism staff in general is more complicated than just over-tourism. The number of qualified guides in Japan (qualified is the keyword) dropped 60% from pre-pandemic to today. During the pandemic, many of the best guides left for other industries. Now in other countries, this was to temporarily replace lost income, however, in Japan, the reason is more obvious – to avoid a 3-year gap in the resume. As the Toyo Woman’s Cristian University said, “High-quality guides who can really look after customers are the most important, and they are definitely in short supply… The value guides can bring is to turn people into Japan fans. With their language skills and deep understanding of the country’s charms, they can convey Japan’s appeal to the world.” This was the main reason we waited, out of respect to the norms of the culture, and to allow the best guides to shine. We have always believed less is more, and that is more of a truth in Japan than anywhere else.
We are finally at a point where we are comfortable setting realistic expectations and accepting requests for Japan where we are the right fit. We have some amazing new experiences in the pipeline including a few President’s Picks aimed at those who are active and want to go beyond Tokyo and Kyoto.