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ANA to launch tour guide matching service

Airline partners with startup to offer custom trips to foreign visitors to Japan

ANA, a Japanese airline, will partner with startup Huber to offer a tour guide matching service aimed at overseas visitors to Japan.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- ANA Holdings, parent of All Nippon Airways, plans to launch a tour guide matching service for overseas travelers to Japan, together with tour specialist Huber.

ANA already has tourism partnerships with companies such as Airbnb and Gaiax, an experience-based travel service. With the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games coming in 2020, the Japanese airline hopes to offer customized travel services to flyers.

Huber, a startup founded in 2015, in early September raised tens of millions of yen (several hundred thousand dollars) from ANA through a private share placement. Other stakeholders include Tokyo-based railway operator Tokyu.

Huber specializes in matching visitors to Japan with local guides, including college students looking to practice speaking foreign languages. The platform helps users find guides according to their interests and travel plans.

The partners aim to launch the matching service for ANA customers by the end of the year. The platform will also be used to gather data on the activities travelers engage in during their stays.

Japan recently relaxed regulations on the tour guide business. Unlicensed guides can now offer paid services. The change has prompted more companies to jump into the market. Huber believes its large pool of students and other guides will give it an edge over its competitors.

ANA hopes the tie-up will help it grab a bigger slice of the overseas travel market in Japan. The government has set a goal of attracting 40 million overseas travelers by 2020, and 60 million by 2030. More tourists should translate to greater demand for air travel within Japan, something ANA wants to capitalize on.

The airline will also work with Huber to improve the communication and customer service skills of its employees. ANA will encourage staff to sign up as guides on the platform to give them more opportunities to interact with overseas visitors. Huber will help it incorporate tour guide work into its staff training program.

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