TOKYO -- Foreign travelers trailing large suitcases at tourist spots are a familiar sight in Japan, but they could ease up if a planned joint new service by JTB, Panasonic and Yamato Holdings takes off.
The January launch of the Luggage-Free Travel service, which brings together leading players in Japan's travel, electronics and transport industries, was announced Sept. 21.
The service, which can be reserved through a simple operation from a smartphone or a PC, allows foreign tourists to travel light by sending large pieces of luggage to their next destinations in the country, such as from an airport to a hotel, and between hotels.
Four airports to 10,000 locations
In a Tokyo press conference, JTB Managing Officer Hiroki Furuno said the companies aim to build the service into a "new platform in tourism." Panasonic Executive Officer Masahiro Ido said, "Our plan is to turn it into a de facto standard" for luggage delivery services.
Using the service, tourists can send their luggage, for example, from an airport to a hotel, or between hotels. It will be available to participants in tours arranged by JTB and individual tourists, by applying before or during their travel.
On the service's reservation website, tourists enter information including their name and the size and number of the luggage items. Then a QR code is issued. During their travels, tourists can just produce the code on a smartphone screen so airport or hotel staff can scan it and have their luggage delivered, without requiring manually filling out a form. The process takes about a minute and a half, according to the companies.
Existing similar services, available through printed forms and must be filled out on the spot, have typically taken more than 10 minutes.
The service notifies customers the status of their delivery via email. When they arrive at the destination, be it a hotel or an airport, they can again produce their QR code so the service counter attendant can scan and hand over the luggage.
Delivery will be handled by Yamato Transport, a Yamato Holdings subsidiary.
Service counters, where tourists can deposit their luggage for delivery, will be set up at Narita, Haneda, Chubu and Kansai international airports, as well as about 100 other locations, such as hotels, mainly in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
From these locations, tourists can send luggage to 10,000 hotels and other lodging facilities throughout Japan. If the items are deposited before 11 a.m. at Haneda or Narita airport, they will reach anywhere in the greater Tokyo region by 6 p.m. at the earliest.
Fees start from 2,000 yen ($17.78) not including tax, for an item measuring up to 120cm in the sum total of three dimensions and weighing up to 15kg. Items larger than that and measuring up to 160cm and weighing up to 25kg cost a minimum of 2,500 yen. Additional fees apply for some destinations.
Yamato has in the past operated its own luggage delivery service, but it was not as popular as it hoped. The company believes it did not take off because of the cumbersome procedures necessary and insufficient promotional efforts. The new service is several hundred yen more expensive than the existing one, but it will come with special offers, such as discounts on admission to tourist facilities.
Information for the service will be centrally managed on Panasonic's cloud system, which links JTB's information on tourists and hotels with Yamato's delivery data. Equipment required at the service counters, such as QR code readers, will be provided by Panasonic and loaned to hotels for free.
JTB will promote the service through its network of overseas branches, partners and airlines, as well as targeting participants of its tours. There is also a plan to advertise the service on TVs at hotels and via flyers.
Reduction of congestion
The companies expect the service to contribute to the government's drive to boost tourist numbers to Japan by helping to increase comfort for foreign tourists while they are in Japan.
Travelers with large suitcases can aggravate congestion in mass transportation systems in large cities and in worse cases may cause delays. Increasing amounts of luggage threaten to overload checkrooms at tourist locations and hotels, as well as coin-operated lockers. Such stress would be alleviated if large luggage is transported separately and efficiently.
The service is also expected to help boost tourists' spending by facilitating shopping, as it will free up hands and allow them to walk around more and stay longer in an area.
During the press conference to introduce the service, actresses performed a short skit demonstrating how the service can liberate tourists from their luggage and help them enjoy the extra time the service can create.
The companies plan to expand the service in the future. The plan is to introduce in phases services of delivering specific items, such as ski gear and golf bags, and transporting souvenirs to the airport by the date of departure.
By 2020, by which time the government aims to boost foreign visitor count to 40 million, the service will have 2,500 luggage depositing counters across Japan, with a target of 1 million users per year.
At this point, however, the fate of the service appears not necessarily rosy, judging from a survey conducted in the fall of 2016 by the three companies on users of a trial service. Only 56% of the respondents said they would want to use the service if it costs around 2,500 yen -- and the minimum prices are set at 2,000 yen to 2,500 yen.
The companies aim to add further value to the service so that it grow into a key platform supporting the government's drive to promote tourism by linking various other services to it, such as reservation of car-sharing services.