Seeking insight into innovation in the Japanese service industry, GLOBIS faculty Cristian Vlad spoke to Ms. Akiko Katsuki, head of customer relations at the Laguna Garden Hotel about communicating the spirit of Okinawa to her guests.

CV: What are the main challenges you face in transforming the customer experience at the Laguna Garen Hotel?

AK: My main concern is balancing what customers expect at the hotel and what they actually experience. At Laguna Garden, we like to think of our guests as family, people who look forward to spending time with us and that we look forward to pampering and entertaining. Exceeding expectations is not easy. Any moment for our guests can be that special moment, so we need to be highly sensitive to all the signs, to “read the air,” as we say in Japanese, and to anticipate our guests’ intentions.

CV: That sounds like a very challenging task. How do you manage it?

AK: All of us here at Laguna Garden all aware that, along with our services, we sell the concept of Okinawa to our guests. We are all aware of the fact that most travel retailers work hard to sell Okinawa as a destination, and that customers today have an increasing amount of choice. Once someone has made the decision to get on a plane and come down here, they encounter even more choices: accommodation, meals, beaches, live shows, and other forms of entertainment. People come here expecting to experience and enjoy Okinawa, so Okinawa is what we have to deliver.

CV: How do you do that?

AK: Gyokan wo yomu (reading between the lines) is a technique commonly used in Japanese hospitality services, and I personally take it to heart. It’s all about anticipation. Delivering on a sales promise is commonsense. Going beyond what customers expect and creating repeated moments of pleasurable surprise is what sends our guests home with the desire to return. Hospitality is a perishable service. However, what does not perish easily is joy.

CV: As you said, there are many options for accommodation in Okinawa. How do you differentiate yourself?

AK: Laguna Garden is the perfect place to enjoy Okinawa because it’s a unique space produced by many local Uchinanchu people. Okinawa is everywhere here. It’s in the views, the ambiance, the way of working, the culture and traditions, the camaraderie… I’m from Hokkaido myself, way in the north, but this hotel has a way of making you feel quite at home. This is exactly what people coming to Okinawa are looking for.

Many of the big luxury hotels go for a display of sophistication. Our sophistication and luxury lie deep within our hearts, the warm hospitality we strive to provide, and the unique atmosphere of the region.

CV: Is technology playing a big part at Laguna?

AK: Yes, it is, but we are firm believers that technology is nothing but a tool. It helps us communicate, inform, connect, and operate. What makes us who we truly are, though, is us. We bring our whole selves to work. It’s the unique human experiences we create that truly delight our guests.

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