Sending nearly 3,000 people to Japan during the recent Rugby World Cup (RWC) was no mean feat, even for a TTG Travel Award-winning operator. And then there was the typhoon.
“Hagibis really stretched us,” James Mundy, PR and marketing manager at InsideJapan Tours, told TTG. “We had about 1,200 people there whose travel plans we had to change. It was a huge team effort.
“Between our ground staff in Japan and our teams in the UK, the US and Australia, we were able to provide 24-hour support for customers. In times of crisis, you see just how good a company is – or can be.”
InsideJapan will next year mark its 20th anniversary and the business has ambitious plans to further grow trade relationships and increase visibility among agents; new BDM Andrew Tait has joined the business from Travelwise, while Mundy revealed the operator was planning to build on its inaugural fam held earlier this year.
But it’s hard to overstress how important a year 2019 has been for InsideJapan.
“We do see 2019 as a bit of a breakthrough,” said Mundy. “When we started, people used to say: ‘Why Japan?’.
“We believed in it, though. Japan was a niche destination; now it’s found its way onto everyone’s bucket lists. It has emerged.”
InsideJapan was crowned Destination Specialist of the Year at the TTG Travel Awards 2019.
“That award was massive for us within the trade,” said Mundy. “A lot more people now know who we are.
“We’ve actually done really well through the trade this year; about 40% of our RWC bookings were from agents. The Abta Travel Convention [in Tokyo] was another big thing for us. As soon as it was announced, I got straight on the phone and told them: ’This is our turf and we want to be a part of it.’”
In 2009, when it was announced the 2019 RWC had been awarded to Japan, InsideJapan consisted of about 30 people; its headcount now numbers more than 200.
“It seemed so far away,” said Mundy.
InsideJapan appointed England Rugby Travel’s Louise Pigot its rugby project manager in July 2017 to oversee its RWC preparations. “Our ethos was: ’You do the tickets, we do Japan’,” said Mundy.
“Agents then started coming to us. It was a bit of a surprise, a nice one. A lot had clients wanting to go to the rugby. We weren’t an official [RWC] partner, but we did feel we could offer those heading to Japan good value for money.
“We were very aware of the demand, and we surpassed our targets for the RWC. We had nearly 3,000 people travel with us over the six-week period. We took it to the limits of what we could achieve.”
Mundy said the groundwork InsideJapan laid for the RWC would stand the operator in good stead for the 2020 Summer Olympics, to be held in Japan from 24 July next year.
“We probably won’t push the Olympics like we did the RWC because of the red tape,” he said.
“There are more restrictions than there were for the rugby – you have to buy a package with event tickets. But there’s no doubt we’ll send a lot of people out there. We’re just trying to get the message out that we are the Japan specialists, that if you have a ticket, we can do the rest.”
One of Tait’s key focuses next year will be to increase sales of sister brand InsideAsia Tours through the trade and promote its new product for 2020. “It’s a big part of what we do,” said Mundy.
“South-east Asia, Indochina – Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar. We’re expanding this in 2020 to South Korea, Malaysia, Borneo and China to start with. We expect these destinations to be popular with our existing database. I’m really excited about Korea, it sits well with Japan.”
InsideJapan, meanwhile, will introduce a new 11-day small group tour, Walking Nagasendo and Beyond, for 2020, travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto via the Kyso Valley, Nakasendo Way, and the 80km Shin-etsu Trail, which links Nagano and Niigata. Guests will stay in traditional accommodation throughout.
“It’s the best way to experience rural Japan,” said Mundy. “It’s completely off the radar for most people.”
Mundy added increasing its focus on existing agent partners, and reaching new ones, would be a key focus for 2020.
“Who knows, we might need more hands by the end of the year,” he said.