H.I.S. is a travel agency founded in 1980 based in the Shinjuku Oak Tower in Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, specializing in low-cost package tours. H.I.S. currently has 200 branches in 130 cities abroad, including Kuala Lumpur.
UNLOCK JAPAN talks to Mr. Kawabata and Mr. Safwan from H.I.S. to discover more about them and their thoughts on Malaysians travelers to Japan.
Mr. Yamaguchi: If you are Japanese, you are bound to be familiar with H.I.S. travel agency. This time, I would like to introduce to Malaysians H.I.S. travel agency, of its strengths, as well as its differences in comparison to other travel agencies.
Mr. Kawabata: Other travel companies sell the plans of mainly organizations. However, lately there is an increasing number of people who do not like traveling in groups. We design our tours in response to customers’ requests. In short, the package tour we offer are flexible and specifically tailored to your needs.
Mr. Yamaguchi: Understood. Recently, there are many travelers who make their travel arrangements online, especially the younger generation. H.I.S. has branches worldwide. What have you to say about this trend?
Mr. Safwan: Yes. I heard that most Malaysians will make most of their reservations online. Understanding this trend, I think it is crucial now to establish the importance of H.I.S. as a travel agency, and to show how we can be the primary source for travel resources. As part of our proposal for your trip, we will gather and combine guides and information not commonly available online in addition to the requested traveling itinerary you request. On top of that, we throw in suggestions of fascinating places off-the-beaten-path and good travel bargains that we believe meet our customer preferences and demands.
Also, some clients may want to get information from someone who knows the destination personally rather than get it off the web, and we have some clients who dislike to purchase online at times because of the high prices. Our highly trained personnel deal with such situations firsthand, and offer our clients unbeatable deals and packages. I would like to add that we aim to increase the number of stores in the future.
Mr. Yamaguchi: Understood. Next, I will move on to ask about visits to Japan. Currently, Malaysia has about 390,000 visitors to Japan. I think that the growth rate will continue to increase in the future. Can you tell me about the trends of inbound visits to Japan?
Mr. Safwan: Our trend may differ from other companies. Recently the number of inquiries has increased.
Mr. Kawabata: The number of Malaysians has definitely increased due to the following factors that have made travelling to Japan easier: VISA for Malaysians is no longer needed, the number of AirAsia flights as well as Airbnb stay options have increased, giving more flexibility to those who plan to visit Japan.
Mr. Yamaguchi: Which places are most visited?
Mr. Safwan: Formerly Osaka, Tokyo, and Hokkaido.
Mr. Kawabata: Recently Shirakawago.
Mr. Yamaguchi: Are these places easily accessible?
Mr. Kawabata: Yes, via bullet train, using the rail pass. Shirakawago has shown an incredible tourist boom over the past two years. Places other than Sapporo in Hokkaido, Furano, Abashiri, and Hakodate are also experiencing a tourist boom.
Mr. Yamaguchi: I see. Please share with me the challenges that H.I.S. has faced with regards to meals and municipality-related issues.
Mr. Kawabata: In my point of view, I think that it is better to highlight our Muslims clients. In parts of Osaka, Tokyo for example, there are mosques in Nagoya,and proper places for prayers in Tokyo and Sapporo. However, other places like Kanazawa and Takayama do not seem to have the same considerations. I think that there are few mosques in Fukuoka. Tokyo and Osaka are the big cities whereas Shirakawago, rich in nature and culture, is becoming one of the top destinations to visit.There are many regular visitors to Japan, and I feel that it is better to go to other prefectures other than Tokyo and Osaka. But now, Muslims are more interested in going to Aomori and Akita.. I think that it would be better to prepare prayer places and Halal menu for them.
Mr. Safwan: Certainly, there are Japanese who have yet to be familiar with Muslim needs. It is important to prepare rooms for prayers and halal food options of the part of the personal touch. However, it is not too difficult presenting a no pork option on the menu.
Mr. Yamaguchi: Understood. Finally, is there a message for our readers, such as future directions and plans of H.I.S.?
Mr. Safwan: I would like to say that Japan is an absolutely beautiful place to visit for those who have yet to explore our country. I would like to also add that our culture is different between Malaysia and Japan, but that makes it one of the reasons to visit us, to get to know Japan and its rich culture. The food culture in our country is an adventure by itself. We believe that there are plenty of attractions for our visitors and I invite our visitors to indulge like a local.There are also many Malaysians who are now looking at the countryside of Japan. And because of these growing demand, we will continuously promote Japan and everything good in it.
Mr. Yamaguchi: H.I.S. is well established and your travel programs and itineraries can not be done online or via local agent, yes?
Mr. Safwan: Yes. We are quite detailed and we do understand what our young travellers seek for. When you contact us, we offer a better insight into Japanese culture and attractions.
Mr. Kawabata: To our future clients in Malaysia, we would like to recommend traveling after studying and getting to know the best of Japan. There are many sightseeing places in Japan besides Tokyo and Osaka.The image of Japan is has been mainly focused on Tokyo, animation series, Akihabara, Shinjuku etc. There are many other scenic places such as the countryside in Japan and things that will woo you besides those common tourist attractions. I would like to invite your readers to get to know such places as well.