The centrally located Grand Hyatt Tokyo in the capital’s Roppongi Hills ‘city within a city’ provides creative, innovative and unique personal experiences so that guests can constantly experience a new Japan with each visit. General Manager Steve Dewire explains how its blend of “bleasure” and “edutainment” makes it stand out from the hospitality crowd, and provides an overview of Japan’s expanding tourism sector.
Mr. Dewire, you arrived here in this position in late 2014; having now spent the best part of two years here, what is your impression of the Japanese tourism sector?
I think that there is tremendous potential for growth, and it seems that this is already being discovered as more visitors are coming to Japan each year. We have found that businesses are growing and bringing tourism with them, both before and long after people’s stays. I believe being four years away from the Olympics, we have a very solid platform from which to further grow.
Japan is a very sophisticated country that is full of appeal, where attention to detail and superior quality is reflected in everything, along with the mind of omotenashi (hospitality) which expands across not only tourism but also business. We have found that visitors who come here feel a sense of safety, understand the culture, and experience the kindness of the people and the ease of getting around Tokyo. When they leave, they talk to their families and other people they know, creating a very positive image of Japan by word of mouth. I know it has certainly been a very exciting and new experience for me.
The weak yen in more recent years, and waiving of visa requirements for countries such as India, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and China, have really helped to spur demand, and I think that companies around us have a positive outlook in regards to their business growth for the longer term and into the Olympics. I believe that Japanese tourism is growing; it’s in a transition to the future. It seems that the tourism and government officials are looking at it much the same way and are asking for feedback and input from the industry and the industry is responding.
What are some of the changes you have witnessed since your arrival here?
I’ve seen a sincere outreach from the government towards organizations promoting tourism, to tap into the expertise surrounding them and their businesses. These organizations listen and ask questions so that they can help formulate a message and sculpt the brand for Japan globally. They have started making changes such as expanding Wi-Fi networks in various areas, guides and announcements in English, and restaurant menus in multiple languages. They’re working on being able to expand that branding in a very sincere fashion.
As the host country of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, Japan will draw attention from around the world and international visitors will continue to increase. This means that as we get closer to the Olympics, demand for not only leisure but on-site visits of corporations and the demand for MICE will increase as well. This is a great opportunity we have been given and we hope to see a positive impact on the hotel business and the overall economy.
The style of MICE also seems to be changing to a rapidly evolving lifestyle trend of “bleasure”, a mixture of business and pleasure. Lately, the boundary line between work and private life is becoming vague as demands for enjoying leisure before and after work are being incorporated – hence we adapted to these changes by creating a facility that has the capability to handle both.
In regards to the future, repeat guests to this country have been increasing so I believe the style of travel will shift from visiting major tourism sites and areas such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hakone, to also including a variety of regions where tourists can learn about and be exposed to Japan’s everyday lifestyle and culture. Prime Minister Abe stresses the importance of Japan becoming a more tourism-oriented country, especially with the decrease in demand for domestic travel due to the aging population and declining birth rate. In order to do this, we need to start highlighting other local attractions, which may not yet be known to people around the world.
We have had the opportunity to have met with a number of people who have great experience and knowledge of the Japanese tourism world and a number have commented that Japan should be up there with the likes of France, Spain, Italy and the US in terms of tourism numbers. What is your impression of these sorts of comments and what steps do you believe the country should take in order to be able to cater to 50-60 million plus tourists a year?
I understand the comparisons, but Japan is awakening and welcoming tourism at an increasing rate every passing year, so I believe that the infrastructure to support that is an important component. I think there is always a concern when tourism grows too quickly. Going too quickly can bring a whole different set of stresses with it. The country has a declining birth rate and population, which is an issue for human resources, and over the long term it can have an effect on the superior services that the country is known for. However, this is being recognized, and I think that the government is looking for ways to facilitate resources that allow us – the hospitality and tourism industry – to have teams to perform the services that we really need.
I believe Japan will continue developing a formula to handle this in a purposeful way and in a way that works best for the country, supporting people who are coming back into the workforce in Japan and those coming from the outside who have a sincere interest to be here and contribute. I believe that the outreach and the potential is all there and now it will depend on the speed at which we absorb the feedback and start to move.
What is your view on how to best communicate and promote Japan’s sophisticated, world-class tourism industry against some of the region’s and world’s high-level competition?
First, I think it is important to understand and communicate the value of Japan not just as a country, but as a brand. In order to communicate the brand effectively, the citizens of Japan must continue to share their pride for their country, culture and important traditions through tourism and unique experiences that create both learning and memories for life.
Secondly, the government and the people must continue to work together to support a bottom-up approach and create an effective tourism infrastructure which will positively impact not just Tokyo, but the entire country. If this is successful, we will be able to increase repeat visitors and shape “fans” of Japan.
Over the last few years, Japan has started becoming more tourist-friendly and these changes must be communicated and promoted so visitors feel confident traveling here alone. People who already have an interest in Japan will find a way to come here; the challenge is creating curiosity and interest in those around the world who don’t know anything about this wonderful country.
I think something very powerful about Japan that I have experienced is the sincerity, the depth and the warmth of all the people here, and to be able to project that along with the Japanese concept of omotenashi (hospitality) is key. At the same time, keeping up with the evolving technology and making use of digital marketing and SNS, especially towards the new millennial generation, will become increasingly important.
To stand out from our competition, we have to not only communicate, but also listen and learn from the success that other countries have experienced and value the perspectives and opinions of foreign visitors that come here. There are many things that may be obvious or normal to Japanese people, which are not so obvious to others; so it’s always good to get different perspectives from visitors to make us more aware of what could be improved.
What sets the Grand Hyatt Tokyo apart from your competition such as the Imperial Hotel or the Shangri-La for example?
Those are beautiful hotels, and in terms of the Imperial Hotel, there is so much history there and I have a great admiration for that. I believe we have a very different concept at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. We are a dynamic “lifestyle destination” hotel and we emphasize not only offering a place to stay and dine, but a place where guests can “experience” the extraordinary through innovative products and services, all in a multi-cultural and luxurious atmosphere. There is a sophisticated nature of the Grand Hyatt brand, such as that effortless experience and the ability to informally relax and be yourself in the hotel. We find ourselves constantly hosting notable dignitaries, celebrities, prestigious conferences and top-level corporate events here.
One of our major selling points is our convenient and centralized location in Roppongi Hills, which is known worldwide as the largest urban re-development project in Tokyo and a stimulating center for business, culture, fashion and leisure. It houses 200 shops and boutiques, a movie theater, a museum, corporate buildings, and we are lucky to be directly connected to all of it. When the plans were put in place to build Roppongi Hills, the owners wanted to include a modern, international luxury hotel that would be able to accommodate people and businesses from around the world who came to the multi-use complex for business and leisure purposes. With this in mind, the Grand Hyatt Tokyo was the perfect global brand for this location.
In addition, since March 11, safety has become a key factor for our guests and at Roppongi Hills we have our own generator that produces power and a storage of food and water in case of an earthquake. The areas are designed so that guests will seek refuge in it rather than flee from it.
Another key element that differentiates us from other hotels is our multilingual and multi-cultural team of employees, who are able to meet the demands of large international conventions. We plan to continue evolving and adapting to further meet the needs of our international guests by increasing multi-lingual staff, focusing on the international flair, and staying innovative while maintaining a balance of Japanese aesthetics and service.
Take us through the hotels expansion plans or projects, which will lead to continued sustainable growth?
We have 387 rooms, and 31,000 square feet of meeting space, which provides a great square feet ratio to the number of rooms we have. We have additional private rooms in each of the restaurants, which gives us a lot of flexibility. Within our footprint, we wouldn’t expand here, but we would continue to diversify how we use the facility.
During the short period of 13 years that we have been in business, we have been able to consistently renovate our facilities to adapt to the trends and ever-changing demands. In 2014 we renovated our guest rooms and a portion of our event spaces were done in a residential theme. As I mentioned earlier, the concept of “bleasure,” a work style emphasizing a more flexible work-life balance, is becoming mainstream and we wanted to reflect this with a unique residential design. This was instantly successful, and now we’re moving onto the next level of renovation and renewal this summer and next summer as we continue to reinforce our position as a leading international hotel with innovative facilities, equipped with the latest technology. As we think ahead, we will need to keep being good stewards and proactive thinkers, for creative ways to use this facility.
Despite being in Japan, a country with deep traditions, Tokyo generates the latest trends and cultures and it is a market where traditions, traditional cultures and new cultures co-exist. This flexibility is a wonderful thing, and we would like to position the hotel with the role of a hub for introducing the appeals of Japan under the concept of education + entertainment = “edutainment”, where one can experience and learn more about cultures and traditions. We would like to actively develop a high level of experience-based programs that are Grand Hyatt Tokyo-like, dynamic and sophisticated, with entertaining qualities to promote the appeals of the hotel and accelerate competitiveness.
Right now, we are also focusing on the depth of communication with our guests and how we could close the distance between each other. To have continued sustainable growth, we need to consistently provide excellent service by creating genuine, lasting relationships and deeper emotional connections with our guests, which will ultimately lead to customer loyalty and returns.
What is the room occupancy indicator showing, as we continue to see substantial growth across the sector in Japan?
It’s very high right now because there is a great deal of compression. We’re in the upper levels of our occupancy threshold, and I think it’s the same for many other hotels. There is a tremendous amount of inbound travel and I think it’s been fairly widely reported that occupancies of 80-90% in the industry are the norm. The business and international travel that’s coming to Japan along with domestic business travel is very active right now. Leading up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics, the annual occupancies may have cycles within a year, but will continue to be positive.
How is the hotel positioned in the MICE sector and what focus have you placed on further developing your MICE prospects?
Hyatt overall has a tremendous commitment to MICE, and we do very well. We are excited when groups choose our property in each of those categories, and can really experience the hotel and the areas in the city itself. We plan to aggressively grow those bookings as we move into the future. Our team travels strategically to different parts of the world to generate new business potential, and we also work together with Roppongi Hills and local organizations such as the DMO, or Destination Marketing Roppongi, to achieve a common goal of increasing MICE business on a larger scale, such as large conventions and movie premiers. We’ve had a lot of interest from companies coming to Japan and we would like to establish our position as a leading hotel that can constantly offer creative, innovative and unique personal experiences.
One of the things that support development, as we mentioned earlier, is the location of the hotel and the fact that we are a lifestyle destination. Mori Tower offers such a wide variety of experiences with the City View observation deck on top, the museum, arena, theater, and 200 shops and restaurants. Within the MICE segment, we tend to see a combination of business and pleasure, and we think that we fit that model very well, and the companies that have met with us express the same. Our central location is very attractive to them, especially coming from Haneda airport, which is expanding its runways for the future.
What do you believe to be some of the principal challenges facing not just the high-end hotel business today but specifically the Grand Hyatt?
In order to achieve our goal of becoming the most preferred hospitality brand –loved and respected by colleagues, guests, owners, operators, and community members – human resources are extremely important. We are actively working to secure human resources within a decreasing working population, preparing to receive international guests, and training a diverse group of staff to be leaders of the future. To enhance services for our guests, employee satisfaction is essential to becoming the preferred employer in the market. Providing the training necessary for each employee to achieve the company mission and vision and to be able to deliver a warm sincere service is our ultimate goal. We have a comprehensive training system which allows employees to learn, develop leadership skills, and in the long- term, support their individual careers.
As mentioned, with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, the world will start to further focus in on Japan and an increase of international visitors will be anticipated. With an increase of international guests who come from various cultures, religion and places, being flexible and warmly welcoming all will be a necessity.
I also believe that it is important to understand, take pride in and have knowledge of one’s own culture and history in order to do business on an equal level. Simply following the manual does not work. Closing the distance with guests and increasing our E.Q. (emotional quotient) level as a team is crucial in order to understand their needs and to better respond to these needs in a sincere manner.
How does the hotel position and market itself to gain more of these US arrivals?
We’re active in promoting ourselves in the United States as a dynamic and luxurious lifestyle destination with one of the best locations in Tokyo. Our team travels there often since there are specific events that are important for us to attend. We make use of Hyatt’s global network to strengthen relations with businesses in the United States and we constantly update and exchange our references. Having lived there for most of my life and being with the Hyatt brand for 40 years, I have been able to establish strong business relationships. There is significant business coming to Japan from the West coast, the technology markets, and markets of Seattle, New York and Washington. I think the companies from the United States are finding that this is a great intermediate location within the world.
Finally, what is the final message you would like to send?
I would say based on this hotel, and based on this beautiful country, please come and visit! You will not be disappointed and you will find that you will be changed. I think the things that people can experience here are truly life changing. There is a tremendous anticipation when you come and I don’t think you can leave disappointed. There is sincerity and a culture that goes back so far in history that you become a part of it during the time that you are here. The safety and sense of security you feel here is very powerful. It’s important for people to realize that Japan has a global culture, and as a hotel that respects Japan’s traditions and appeals, we hope to continue providing creative, innovative and unique personal experiences so that guests who visit this hotel can constantly experience a new Japan.