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JR East's travel bureaus in train stations to close

Japanese rail operator moves sales online as customers shun preset packages

JR East will switch to fully online sales, focusing on plans in which customers can combine rail tickets and hotel reservations of their choice.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- East Japan Railway plans to close a chain of in-station travel agencies by March 2022 and move sales of its travel products online, Nikkei learned Friday.

The View Plaza travel service centers have been JR East's main avenue for selling train tours and other travel packages. But business at the agencies has been sluggish in recent years, while online sales have been brisk.

JR East will switch to fully online sales in April 2022, focusing on Dynamic Rail Packs, which let customers combine rail tickets and hotel reservations of their choice.

The company had 137 View Plaza centers back in March 2012, a tally that had dropped to 56 by this March.

View Plazas usually sell package tours with set itineraries. But more customers are now looking to choose their own train routes and hotels, squeezing sales.

A portion of the storefronts will be converted into help desks for foreign travelers and members of JR East's Otona no Kyujitsu Club, whose name translates to "Holiday for Seniors Club."

Travel packages accounted for 59.3 billion yen ($550 million at current rates), or 2%, of JR East's group revenue in fiscal 2017.

Brick-and-mortar travel agencies are under heavy pressure from online rivals like Expedia and Rakuten Travel. Leading tour agency JTB is also working to streamline locations and staff.

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