Tête-à-tête with Sawako Hidaka of Asia Society Japan Center (part 1)

In her inauguration as our CTC Asia Council Founding Member, Sawako Hidaka (executive director for the Asia Society Japan Center) mentioned: “Your human capital is your main base of competition! CTC harnesses its member organisations’ human capital for the benefit of the entire Corporate Travel Community”. In the forthcoming editions of Bow-Tie Briefing, I am delighted to share a recent in-depth conversation with her.   

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Benson: Sawako San, お元気ですか? (How are you?) Thank you for joining our tête-à-tête. I am sure you have many interesting stories to share with us. First things first, under the current COVID situation, please update us with the latest from Japan.

Sawako: Hello Benson, COVID is undoubtedly affecting everyone globally. With regards to the hospitality industry as a whole: hotels, airlines, travel agencies, ground transportation…etc., have had some focus during the past year in Japan. Our government rolled out a campaign called “Go To Travel” that offers big discounts to revive domestic leisure travel business in Japan. All residents of Japan (including foreign residents) are eligible to take advantage of the campaign. Another campaign called “Go To Eat” is a similar initiative by the Japanese government to boost consumer spending and help the economy recover from losses caused by the pandemic. 

Benson: Great! But do these programmes work well? 

Sawako: In some ways, from an economy angle, it works. And people got the incentive and motivation, particularly in the summer and fall last year, to travel domestically. But because of the movement of people, on the other hand, these programmes increased the number of COVID cases. Hence, both campaigns were forced to be temporarily suspended at the end of 2020. Moreover, April is the month when Japanese traditionally gather, such as for the commencement of the Japan fiscal year; the start of the school year; cherry blossom… all of which caused a recent surge in COVID-19 cases. This month Japan put Osaka, Tokyo and eight other prefectures under “quasi-states of emergency” aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 with shorter business hours for restaurants and bars and stronger calls for teleworking. If the situation worsens, we could see major parts of Japan slide back into states of emergency with authorities in Tokyo and Osaka looking at renewed curbs to stop the spread, so this is a dilemma for the government. Osaka is reporting a record 1,220 new cases, while Tokyo reported 543 new cases both on 18 April, the 18th straight day of seven-day increases. So I think we still have a way to go, as we are not as fortunate as you are in Hong Kong with the vaccine availability yet.

Benson: Do you think this will affect The Tokyo Olympics? 

Sawako: No doubt, the new wave of infections complicates preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are due to start in July having already been postponed due to the global coronavirus outbreak last year. Let’s hope the condition improves.  

In the next edition, we will continue this in-depth dialogue. As a sneak preview, the discussion will be focusing on corporate travel and the future of our beloved corporate travel industry, please stay tuned! 😊

Bow-Tie Briefing shares the views of Benson Tang, a corporate travel thought leader and executive director of the CTC – Corporate Travel Community. Benson’s remarkable career in travel started more than 25 years ago and his extensive knowledge of the corporate travel sector has made him a sought-after speaker and lecturer.

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