Sunday, Sep 23, 2018
Science & Technology | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Navitime Japan

Taking personal navigation to new heights

2 years ago

Dr. Keisuke Onishi, President & CEO of Navitime Japan
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Dr. Keisuke Onishi

President & CEO of Navitime Japan

Beyond Google maps and Apple maps, Navitime offers a comprehensive service that allows you to interact in a more efficient way with your environment. We speak to president and CEO, Dr. Keisuke Onishi.

NAVITIME is in a very competitive market, one where companies with the most reputable names in the world are well established, such as Google, and Microsoft, among others. This is a big challenge, but as Professor Joseph Nye said ‘it will come a time when they will be too big for small problems and too small for big problems’. What is it like to compete with companies at the size of Google, and how important is it to have companies like NAVITIME, that can have a more local and tailored approach thanks to its size?

Our service and competitive advantage is precision and personalized navigation systems directed to each user. Our services are tailored to different countries, languages and regions, and are very comprehensible. Looking at Google, for instance; regardless of what country you are in or what language you use, the setup is all the same. In comparison to that, we tailor our navigation systems to the preferences specific to each market, and that is how we could reach the number of users that we have today.

For example, our system will tell the user by audio which exact exit to use when leaving the metro, and instead of simply suggesting where to turn, it will also inform about what different facilities are surrounding. This helps the user to easily navigate and find the closest police station, coffee shop or post office. Especially in Japan, where the metro exit system can become rather complicated, this is an important service that helps facilitate the users to navigate and find the right exit.

Our services also provide information about which exact platform and train car to take in order to get to your destination in the most efficient and timely way. It is very useful as the train normally has many cars and plenty of exits, and this service will tell you what car is closest to the specific exit in order to save time. As most GPS systems require the users to walk for a bit once they get out of the metro to reach their destination, we have enabled our services to facilitate for the user as soon as they step off the train.

With which platform to go to, which exit to use, and how many minutes it will take to transfer between trains, the user will get the tailored itinerary from start to finish. To ensure the accuracy of our itineraries, our employees measure each route by foot. This has ensured the trust and confidence we have from our users. Indeed, it is a hassle to go to each destination and measure in person how long it takes to get from one point to the other, but this is something a company the size of Google could never do, which is why it is even more important for us to be able to provide it to our users. This, in combination with our high function algorithm, we have ensured a strong trust from our users.


Beyond the GPS and mapping service, NAVITIME is also involved in consultancy. In the 21st century, understanding consumer behaviour and the way people work will be one of the most important things. Companies such as IBM and Google have made bold moves in buying start-ups offering mapping services. How important will it be for NAVITIME to develop mapping and collaborating with the public and private sector to understand customer behaviour?

We collaborate with the regional municipalities to attract tourists to the different regions and get them to visit as many places as possible, however, ultimately it is a matter of how, or what the users are interested in. That is why we offer the navigation system to foreign tourists and utilize big data to gather knowledge. With the promotion of the different regions, the results are evident directly through our systems, and we can compile the data weekly or monthly to analyse it. Having this cycle of data gathering is very important to ensure customer satisfaction.

Another point is that many municipalities are trying to attract foreign tourists, but they may not know what attraction they can offer that will be of interest to the tourist. Each region has something special to that region; for instance, the culinary experience, or goldfish scooping (Kingyo Sukui) at a festival, which is something very Japanese. We are able to gather all this content through our various projects with municipalities, and we are collaborating with JNTO to provide all this information to help each region. Further developing this data gathering with the right information and right content, I believe Japan can easily reach the goal of 40 million visitors in the near future, or even 60 million.

We recently launched an additional service in English for our users, that tells the user how to get to a specific region and what to enjoy once they arrive – it is called “NAVITIME Travel”. For instance, if the user wants to go to Iwate prefecture and enjoy the local cuisine, once you drop the pin on the place you want to visit, “NAVITIME travel” enables the user to plan their itinerary around the spot. Spot recommendations are based on our big data, and after the user selects several spots, the time and route is automatically calculated and displayed. We have recently acquired a tourism license, which allows us to also reserve hotels and flights on behalf of our users. Our aim is to become recognised as a tourism agency on top of just providing navigation services.

If Japan reaches 60 million visitors, our sector (the tourism sector) will be the largest in terms of GDP, so we want to attract as many tourists as possible and we are trying to facilitate this.


We talk a lot about stereotypes that are not justified, but there is one that is in fact a real obstacle for visitors, and that is the language barrier. It prohibits visitors to access the full experience of Japan; if you are not able to communicate, there are many doors in Japan a tourist will not have knowledge of. How important is it for a tourist to have a service like yours to truly experience, enjoy and access Japan fully?

In rural areas of Japan, most signs and information in the train stations or on roads are not multilingual, as they are in the larger cities. With our navigation app, we support tourists with the information needed in their own language while traveling through Japan. We want to provide a service that allows each visitor to do whatever they want and access it anywhere through their smartphone. Currently, we offer our services in four languages, but we strive to expand this number and maximise the service to the user.

We receive a lot of feedback from tourists regarding Wi-Fi, and we work hard to meet the demands of the visitors. Currently, there app shows around 50,000 free Wi-Fi spots across Japan. Most users download the app before they enter the plane to Japan, and since the Wi-Fi spot search is available even when you are offline, users can immediately search for Wi-Fi spots when they arrive and get connected. We always strive to deliver these solutions to the tourists by collaborating with the government and organizations such as JNTO, to increase the amount of free Wi-Fi spots. If these developments disseminate, there will be a better environment for communication as well.


You mentioned that the data gathering is more complicated in the rural regions than in the big cities. One of the goals of the government and Abe administration is to activate the regions and decentralize the economy to filter down to all of Japan. Tourism is one of the best engines for economic growth, but it is difficult for both foreign and local tourists to get the information about the rural regions and what to do once there. How important are companies such as NAVITIME in terms of promoting regional tourism and contributing to economic growth all over Japan?

Many tourist guides targeting local tourists usually interview the local regions a few months in advance, and then offer the tourists a package of services and recommendation of where to go and what to do. However, it is very important to offer a real-time service of the events taking place during the time that the tourist will be visiting the specific area. That is why we have started to develop a real-time agenda that automatically shows what activities, festivals and seasonal events that are taking place at the time of the visit. We want this service to be useful for both local and foreign tourists.

We also started to gradually implement an application called “Hokkaido Plat by NAVITIME”, “Kyoto Plat by NAVITIME”, and “Okinawa Plat by NAVITIME”. Currently, this application is only offered in Japanese, but what struck us is that 10-20% of the users are in fact foreign, which was exciting to see.


Although 2015 tourist numbers hit an “all-time-high” of 20 million visitors, this number in comparison to the potential Japan holds is still low. Comparing to the other countries in Asia, Japan only ranks 5th in terms of visitors, and research has shown that although many people view Japan as a country they would like to visit, they rarely consider it as their top priority destination. In terms of NAVITIME and your services, people must choose Japan before they choose NAVITIME. How are you contributing to getting tourists to first choose Japan, and then choose your services?

Realistically speaking, our information is disseminated through SNS platforms. For instance, Yamanashi prefecture is represented with a picture of Mount Fuji in the application, and this image was spread to users in Thailand through SNS. Now, we are showing the Thai visitors the exact itinerary to access the specific spot where that picture was taken. It is very important to discover this “unknown” tourism information and utilize it through our different applications to offer the visitors an ultimate experience of Japan, and SNS platforms are a very useful tool to gather this kind of information.


As the inbound tourism number is growing, so are the numbers of American visitors; this is the first time that American visitors reached 1 million in a year. What is notable with US tourists is that they tend to take longer holidays and spend more compared to the Asian equivalents. How important of a market is the US for NAVITIME, and how are you communicating to that market?

Inbound tourism to Japan can be divided into two categories; Asian and Western. In terms of Western tourists, it is very important for us to offer what is “unknown” about Japan, such as staying at a temple for instance. However, the local municipalities sometimes have difficulties realizing what will be appreciated by the tourists, which is why it is even more crucial for us to recognize the points tourists will find mesmerizing and excavate contents for the foreign tourists. I personally would like to see American visitors enjoying Japan and creating lasting memories for their return, and I am expecting a lot from the United States.


There are many upcoming events in Japan for companies within the tourism sector such as NAVITIME to benefit from; Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the rugby world cup and the Paralympics to mention some. How are you planning to leverage on these events and how can you amplify the experience for the visitors coming to these events?

For the Olympics, we are especially aiming to facilitate services for physically and mentally challenged people, as Japan has complex transport systems and we want to offer services for people to travel safely to their destinations. For instance, we are facilitating specific routes for people in wheelchairs to get around Tokyo without hassle, and equal services for people that are blind or have weak eyesight. For the general public, we aim to establish sustainable content that will be beneficial for tourists beyond the 2020 Olympics.




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