Five Star Hotels: What’s the Rumpus?
SNA (Tokyo) — What’s the Rumpus? Five Star Hotels! SNA President Michael Penn interviews book author Yuko Seki.
Penn: Welcome once again. This is What’s the Rumpus. This is our second episode. Our special guest today is Ms. Yuko Seki. Ms. Seki is going to tell us about hotels in Japan. First of all, can you give us some background? Why is it that you know so much about the hotel industry in Japan?
Seki: Let me introduce myself a little bit, because I suppose most of you don’t know me at all. I’m running an English conversation school in Japan, of course, and when I established my own company, I started to write an article for a hotel. The hotel name is APA Hotel, and the hotel has the biggest share in the business hotel industry. Since then, I started to have an interest in the hotel industry, because if you go to the hotel, you can feel the real luxury. What do you think, Michael?
Penn: Well the hotels I go to, I don’t feel the real luxury. What I feel is the small bugs running across my bed.
Seki: I think some of you may not have experienced having a family dinner at a fancy restaurant in a hotel. You may have a really good memory in there.
Penn: Tell us about your book. I know you have written one book about the hotel industry.
Seki: Last year, I wrote a book about how to provide five-star hotel services to an English speaking guest. The title of my book is, in Japanese, Shinka suru Itsutsu-Boshi Hoteru no Omotenashi Eigo. But in English, it’s about how to, as I’ve mentioned earlier, provide five-star hotel services to English speaking guests. As you know, Japan is facing increasing demands by inbound, I mean large levels of foreign tourists coming to Japan. Last year, the number reached almost 20 million. This year we expect that to be around 22 million. In order to meet this demand, I thought I have to focus on the business related to inbound tourists.
Penn: To be honest, in my case, I’m not sure if I’ve ever stayed in a five-star hotel. Certainly not in Japan, because I’m a journalist on a very terrible budget. So I usually go to one or two-star hotels, like Super Hotel, or some business hotels. The most I ever spend is like ¥8000 or ¥9000 per night. My question for you is, for someone like me, who hasn’t had this experience of five-star hotel service, what am I missing? Specifically, what kinds of services would you expect in a five-star hotel as opposed to the regular business hotels that I frequent.
Seki: I think there is a big difference between the business hotels like what you are talking about, and the five-star hotels. In terms of services, business hotels are places providing somewhere to sleep. Five-star hotels are not just places to sleep or eat meals. It’s more than facilities for just for eating or sleeping.
Penn: What kind of services could I expect if I go there? When I go to a hotel, I just go to sleep? What else should I be doing?
Seki: Five-star hotels will provide superior services that will realize your dreams. Let’s say this is the first time you come to Japan, and you don’t know anything about Japan. You don’t even know where to go, you have no plans, but you have a one week vacation. You might think you want to talk to someone for help. There she is. Maybe you would say, ‘Ms. Abe, I don’t know what to do, but I have vacation for a week, and I want to experience real Japaneseness.’ Then, she will quickly take a phone, and book a really fine restaurant for you. On the second day, maybe you will be guided to Hakone. You will have a boiled egg, and you’ll go to a hot spring, etc. So she is going to make a whole week plan for you. Sometimes she can be your personal tour guide. Something like that. Those concierge services only exist in five-star hotels, not in business hotels. When you enter the hotel, the services between the business and the five-star is completely different. At the entrance, in the case of five-star hotels, there should be a doorman and bellhop, whereas in Japanese hotels, they don’t have those people.
Penn: I think I went to Intercontinental Hotel here in the Roppongi-Itchome area.
Seki: So you do have experience Michael!
Penn: I’m not staying there. Somebody who had more money than I did invited me to lunch there, that’s all.
Seki: Okay. Okay. How did you feel were the services they provide at Intercontinental.
Penn: It was just the food I had. The food was good of course, but I also had one small drink that cost a lot of money. Fortunately, I wasn’t paying.
Seki: What about the services.
Penn: I didn’t really experience them. I just went to sit down and eat. It was just a lunch, snack situation.
Penn: Is there a big difference between the five-star service of an official five-star hotel, and one of these three leading brands in Japan? Is there a big difference?
Seki: Most of the foreign-affiliated hotels are, of course they care about the guest, but unless the guest asks questions, they don’t talk to the guest. For example, if you’re the guest, and you don’t know how to go to the banquet. Maybe you’re the keynote speaker, and you are wandering in the front at the hotel. If it’s the foreign-affiliated hotels, they don’t talk to you. When you are in a Japanese hotel, let’s say Imperial Hotel, which I came from like 30 minutes ago, they will talk to you, ‘You look confused. Are you at a loss? Shall I show you the way?” They will surely say something like that. That’s the big difference. That’s called the Japanese way of omotenashi. They are keeping a distance from the guest to some extent, but Japanese way of omotenashi is more like being a family. Hotel people consider the guest as a member of their family. I think that the distance that Japanese hotels keep, and international hotels keep is different.
Penn: If you are somebody thinking about traveling to Japan, or even a resident here, is there some place in Japan which is not so well known, but you think is a place that people should go?
Seki: Do you mean sightseeing spots?
Penn: Someplace to enjoy or stay in Japan. Maybe with a nice hotel, maybe in a mountain somewhere.
Seki: I would say, Hakone. There is my favorite ryokan called Suishoen. Please check that out on the internet. Suishoen is a very stylish ryokan. It’s a fusion of modern and traditional Japanese styles. Their butler service is also excellent. For each room, you have one butler. If you take the phone and you call the butler, he’s going to do anything for you. If you stay there during the Christmas holidays, the chief chef will be bringing a piece of Christmas cake for you, for each room, with a reindeer. With a little reindeer.
Penn: That sounds really unique.
Seki: Unique and also, many of you know that if you drink some of the beverages in the refrigerator, they’re going to charge you for each beverage, right? But if you stay there, Suishoen, they’re not going to charge.
Penn: So it comes with the service.
Seki: Yes. They also have 50 or 100 DVDs, so you can rent 3 DVDs for free. You don’t have to go outside at all. You can stay in there, because private hot springs are equipped with each room.
Penn: Every room?
Seki: Every room. So you can bathe in the hot bath, you can watch DVDs, anytime you want, you can drink soda. So you can stay inside a whole day.
Penn: I have to thank you for coming in today.
Seki: Thank you, Michael.
Penn: We’re filming this show, What’s the Rumpus, here in the Pink Cow restaurant. I believe that this is your first time at the Pink Cow restaurant. Would you like to have a dinner here before we break up?
Seki: Yes, although I can’t see any pink cow.
Penn: I think there’s a pink cow back there somewhere. Anyway, we will finish up, and now we’re going to have dinner, and we’re going to talk more about five-star hotels. Thank you for joining us again this week. As I’ve said, we’re going to try to do What’s the Rumpus on a weekly basis, but who knows if we’ll actually do it, but this is the second week in a row, so that’s not too bad. Thank you for joining us, this is Michael Penn coming at you from Tokyo. Goodbye.