Corporate Executive Officer
Tokyo has become ground zero for expansion by global luxury hotel groups with Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula being the most recent additions and Shangri-la set to debut next year. Recently Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief, Douglas Gollan, visited Hotel Okura, one of Tokyo’s grand dames, to see how The Leading Hotels of the World property is adapting to the new competitive landscape. He toured the property and interviewed Masao Taguchi, Corporate Executive Officer and Director of Marketing.
ET: How is Hotel Okura going to compete with all of the newcomers in the luxury space?
Masao Taguchi: In 2007 we completed a three-year, $160 million renovation. Our concept is to never inconvenience the customer, which we think is very important for the luxury customer. That means we have two buildings, and two lobbies with full reception areas including two casual dining coffee shops off each lobby.
We also believe luxury customers value space and tranquility. That is why we have in each lobby very spacious areas to sit, but these are not the typical noisy lobby lounges with food and beverages. They provide the hotel no revenue, but the guest they provide a quiet place to relax or conduct business without the noise and distractions if there were servers and such.
We think this approach is different from the other hotels, and we think our customers notice this difference and prefer this approach. We are not trying to turn every nook and corner into a cash register.
ET: Are there any other things that separate The Okura from the new luxury hotels?
Masao Taguchi: Our renovation means we provide the latest in modern technology, but we have kept the Japanese tradition so our guests can experience the real Japan and the real tradition of Japan, not something that has simply been adapted from a global standard. A good example is our traditional rooms for Tea Ceremonies. These are very nice for guests to experience, and for business travelers, they provide a nice way to show their Japanese business partners they value our traditions, which we think can lead to better business for our guests.
Another selling point is the longevity of our staff. We have over 50 staff who were here when the hotel opened over 40 years ago, and many of our 1,300 staff have been here over 20 years. They take tremendous pride in giving our guests the best experience possible. This means, I believe, we have been able to deliver very consistent and excellent service to our guests, and for guests who become repeat guests, they find our staff remembers them and their preferences.
ET: Where do your guests come from?
Masao Taguchi: The U.S. is the number one overseas market and Europe is important as well. Overseas guests make up about 40 percent of our customers with the remaining being domestic guests.
ET: Are there any particular companies or types of industries that use the hotel because of its location?
Masao Taguchi: We are near most of the embassies so we are very convenient for that, and in fact we are directly across the street from the U.S. embassy. We are also very convenient for both IBM and General Electric and many of the multi-nationals.
ET: So part of the renovations was a spa. Tell me about that.
Masao Taguchi: The spa is a mixture of new and old, but guests often comment that it’s very modern and serene. We also focus on our hotel guests [as opposed to local customers], particularly as we know many of them are coming to us after long-haul flights and they have relatively short times to get rested and prepare for meetings. We have a very popular oxygen bar; a jet lag release lighting system; and two relaxation rooms with scenes of nature on large flat screen televisions, relaxing massage chairs and oxygen treatments. We get very good feedback from business travelers who tell us this makes a difference and they feel much better and ready to go. We also have three treatment rooms for more typical treatments you would expect from a high quality spa and also a treatment room for hot stone therapy treatments.
ET: Tell us about the suites at the hotel?
Masao Taguchi: Let me start by saying we have 833 rooms, 31 banquet rooms, eight restaurants and three bars. The hotel also is distinct in that it is not a tower, but two buildings within a nature setting; the Main Building is 11 stories and the South Wing is 13 stories.
We have 90 suites, starting with junior suites which range in size from 640 square feet to 710 square feet, which compare favorably with the new luxury hotels here in Tokyo. Our Embassy Suites are 893 square feet, and at the top level our South Wing Penthouse is 2,486 square feet and the Imperial Suite is 3,810 square feet. The Imperial Suite has a view of the Japanese Garden, a dining room, study and a double master bedroom and twin bedroom.
Our Royal Suites are popular with guests who like a more Western feel. They range from 1,528 square feet to 1,560 square feet and were created with a British townhouse feel by Ms. Jan Wilson from London’s RPW.
We find repeat guests often like to try different suites, although many have a favorite and keep booking the same one for each of their visits.
ET: You mentioned 11 bars and restaurants. Why so many and can you give us an overview?
Masao Taguchi: The area we are in is more business oriented so we wanted to make sure everything our guests need is here in the hotel. The Orchid Room features continental cuisine and has beautiful high ceilings and the Orchid Bar, which is quite famous. We have two Chinese restaurants, another with western cuisine, a Teppanyaki restaurant, Yamazato for Japanese cuisine and sushi, Baron Okura featuring wine, dining and a cigar bar, La Belle Epoque on the 12th floor of the South Wing which is very good for high level entertaining or a romantic dinner and a landmark is the Bar Highlander, our Scottish bar on the first floor in the South Wing.
ET: Are there any other facilities you want to mention?
Masao Taguchi: We have a full gym with extensive weights and aerobic equipment and an indoor pool for guests who like to swim. Of course we have a full Business Center where we can provide bilingual business cards, gift wrapping, mobile phone rental since western cell phones don’t work in Japan and translation services. We even have a dentist office right here in the hotel, a barber shop, post office, beauty salon and formal wear rental so for a guest coming to Japan we really believe we provide convenience and service that stands out.
ET: Is there any advice you would give to readers who want to establish a business base in Japan?
Masao Taguchi: You need to have money as an investment, and it is important to have a network with local people. Japan is getting closer to the western way, but it is still more Asian. In New York, a stranger can go and knock on the door and if it is a good idea, they can do business fairly quickly. Here the same idea is less likely to be accepted right away so it takes some patience and good local contacts to help.
ET: Is Okura expanding as a group?
Masao Taguchi: Yes, next year we will open hotels in Macau and Sun Moon Lake, 40 minutes from Taichung in Taiwan, and one in Taipei in 2010. Right now the group has 17 hotels in Japan plus Amsterdam and Shanghai, Hotel Shilla in Seoul and Jeju, the Halekulani and Waikiki Parc Hotel in Honolulu as well as Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts.
ET: Any other things on your mind?
Masao Taguchi: Hotel Okura provides a uniquely traditional Japanese experience with every modern amenity and the space and tranquility to relax. We have very high satisfaction from first time customers, so the key is to have them try us.