Yoshitaka Nojiri, president of TRUNK Co., Ltd., aims to create a new market for “bou-tique hotels” in Japan. Here in “TRUNKER’S TALK,” Nojiri will delve into various top-ics from the hotel industry to his own work and lifestyle to the future of Tokyo and Japan.
The topic of this issue is “What is lacking in the hotel industry today.” Nojiri, who knows ins and outs of boutique hotels around the world, will explain the challenges the Japanese hotel industry faces today and describe what an ideal hotel will be like in the future.

Japanese hospitality that is unable to handle “what is not found in the manual.”

When I think about the hotel industry in Japan, the word that puzzles me most is omotenashi (hospitality). The word is often used as a symbol of excellence of this coun-try, but from a global perspective, I’m afraid there is a misconception about it. Japan’s personal service industries, including the hotel industry, have a philosophy or guiding principles of thoroughly carrying out what is written in a manual. When it comes to doing as told, they can achieve perfection, and people from overseas often marvel at this.

People in practically any industry of Japan are expected to properly carry out whatever they are asked to do by the company, and whoever meet these expectations are evaluated highly there. In a sense, they are really excellent workers. However, when a customer makes a specific request, they often have difficulty responding to it. They feel confused when customers ask them to do a non-standardized task. This gap is often surprising from the viewpoint of people overseas.

The misconception about hospitality I felt at an inn.

You can easily find a good example of this at a hotel or inn. In my recent stay at a hot spring inn with some of my friends, we were enjoying in-room dining, talking about how we were looking forward to the open-air bath under the blue sky the following morning. Then the room waitress came and asked when we wanted breakfast, at 7, 7:30 or 8 A.M. Since it was a precious vacation and we wanted to sleep in, we asked if it was all right to let them know what time we would eat breakfast when we got up the following morning. But the waitress wanted us to decide right then.
She also discussed our request with the kitchen staff, but the response was the same, so we had no choice but to skip breakfast. We just didn’t want to go to bed worrying about tomorrow’s wake-up time and breakfast. In this way, Japanese hospitality is just about doing everything by the book, and they cannot satisfy an easy request if that is not specified in the manual. They may have lost sight of the original purpose of providing service and hospitality.

The true value of hospitality lies beyond the manual.

In other words, from a global standpoint, the hospitality level in Japan is not as high as we think. But what is incredible is perseverance—to be able to keep a smile and deal with anyone, and to apologize immediately for anything to the extent that there is a manual on how to apologize…

Of course, it is great to be able to serve according to the manual, but employees should also able to provide outstanding customer service that satisfies customers’ expectation in a situation not foreseen in the manual, just like excellent company managers do. This is the only way to improve their hospitality in the real sense.

A hotel without a manual = TRUNK(HOTEL)

So, what should we do to achieve this? The hotel industry is generally equipped with a number of manuals, but at TRUNK(HOTEL), we have been trying to keep rules as few as possible. We broadly decide which way to go, and leave the rest to the staff members so that they can pursue what they want to do. They can also establish com-pany systems and procedures as they like.

Traditional Japanese companies have systems and manuals in place right from the out-set, and most Japanese people have only focused on how to optimize and maximize them. However, at TRUNK(HOTEL), we decided from the start to eliminate manuals and min-imize rules, and by doing so, our staff members have learned how to think and act on their own in every situation. This is why they are able to find a right answer on their own about the way they work, as well as the way they provide customer service.

An environment not bound by rules holds the key to staff members’ growth

As they make more decisions on their own, their mind will get sharpened, and the more experience they have, the better they can perform when dealing with customers and is-sues. What they want to do directly leads to the customer satisfaction. Therefore, our members believe that their personal growth leads to high-quality performance, and they even design their own growth support system.

Have courage to say no to unreasonable requests.

I tell the staff that it would be nice to be in a positive fifty-fifty relationship with our customers. For example, if a customer has an unreasonable request or demand something ridiculous like harassment, they should have the courage to say no. Customers are im-portant, but I don’t believe it’s necessary to have to accept everything they demand.

Our visitors often say that the staff working at TRUNK(HOTEL) look like they are having fun. This should be because each individual is able to work freely, without being bound by rules. It has been a year-and-a-half since we opened the hotel, and in retrospect, eliminating rules have had more positives than negatives, and we experienced a lot of things that we can be proud of. This is why I have removed the manual, decided to trust our employees and let them work the way they want. It would be great if more Japanese companies adopted this management style. I believe this is necessary for Japan as it aims to become a tourism-oriented country, and I would be happy if our efforts at TRUNK(HOTEL) became a success story of it.