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Startups

SoftBank-backed startup follows Japan tourists' data trails

New app will stay with travelers from vacation planning to photo sharing

hi Japan, mobile travel device startup, will launch a travel platform to collect comprehensive travel data by tracking flows of tourists. (Photo by Eri Sugiura)

TOKYO -- A SoftBank Group-backed startup will release a new app in June that lets users do everything from research a vacation to share travel photos, generating streams of data on tourists that can be sold to hotels.

The new departure by Hi Japan, part of Hong Kong-based online travel group Hi, will extend the company's reach beyond the hotels where it now offers for-rent smartphones.

It comes as Japan sees an influx tourism that has taken annual visitors to record numbers.

"We are moving today to the world's first integrated travel platform," Hi Japan CEO Peter Lee said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The startup provides a smartphone rental service called handy to 30% of total hotels in Japan, including high-end chains. The devices, which come with built-in travel applications, allow the hotel guests to make free local and international calls and internet access. The phones can be used on the go as well.

SoftBank Group took a stake in the company in July 2018, expecting synergies with the group's other technology investments for increasing efficiency of hotels and travel services. Lee also said on Tuesday that Hi Japan plans to start a hotel chain that lets guests check in automatically using their smartphone as a room key.

In addition to planning trips, the new app will let users shop for souvenirs, make restaurant reservations or share photos of their trip afterwards, all in their native language. Data collected by the app will be fed back into the app to help improve algorithms for recommending destinations. 

"The biggest online travel agent competitors like Expedia or Booking Holdings have only less than 5% of total revenue in the travel industry," Lee said.

Having experienced the foundation of Expedia's subsidiary in Japan, Lee said having hardware devices at more than 600,000 rooms at over 5,000 hotels worldwide enables the company to stand at "the forefront of a leading technology in the travel industry."

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