In April 2017, FREEPLUS opened its first hotel, FP HOTELS South-Namba in the southern part of Osaka, known as “Minami” area among locals. The motive for FREEPLUS to enter the hotel industry was to address the needs of foreign travelers in Japan.
Looking back on his hectic days after the opening of FP HOTELS South-Namba, General Manager, Atsuki Masuda agreed to this interview to share the events running up to the opening of the new hotel and some behind-the-scene situations from the current hotel operation.
FP HOTELS South Namba, run by a land operator specialized in selling Japan group tours to foreign travel agencies
FP HOTELS South-Namba is the first of many hotels planned to be built under the FP HOTELS brand. The first hotel, recently opened in April 2017, is located literally a stone’s throw from Shin-Imamiya Station, precisely one-minute walk by Google Map! Compared to other hotels in Osaka, FP HOTELS South-Namba positions itself as a “premium 3-star hotel”, with an objective to provide comfortable stay to its guests at a reasonable price.
The theme of the hotel is “LOW PRICE, a little LUXURY.” FREEPLUS’s main business is a land operating business selling Japan group tour packages to foreign travel agencies. FREEPLUS has more than 6-year experience as a Japan tour operator, dealing with more than 610 foreign travel agencies from 29 different countries and providing a cumulative total of more than half a million room nights to foreign guests. FP HOTELS South-Namba was designed based on know-hows and data from dealing with many foreign guests in Japan.
For general information of FP HOTELS, please visit its website here. General Manager, Atsuki Masuda. His previous stints include foreign sales in Thailand within Land Operating Division and start-up of JAPARES, an online restaurant booking platform for Japan group tours.
- Q1. What is some background in starting a hotel business?
- Q2. What is unique about FP HOTEL South-Namba?
- Q3. Where is FP HOTELS South-Namba located?
- Q4. What are some feedbacks from hotel guests?
- Q5. What is the future of FP HOTELS?
Q1. What is some background in starting a hotel business?
During high seasons, FREEPLUS faces the deadlock in securing hotel rooms in Osaka as demand exceeds supply
FREEPLUS’s main business is a land operating business securing components of a Japan group tour – hotels, buses, tour guides – for foreign travel agencies. With a strong rise in the number of foreign tourists buying our tour packages, we face the deadlock in securing enough hotel rooms in Japan during high seasons. Despite Japan’s initiatives to open up its country to foreign tourists, the hospitality industry wasn’t ready to cope with a sudden rise in the number of foreign tourists. Particularly, the hotel occupancy rate in Osaka hit 84.1% in 2016, the highest level among 47 prefectures in Japan. During high seasons, despite more than 100 attempts to reserve rooms by phone calls, there are some cases where we had to take our customers to stay at cities outside of Osaka, such as Kobe, Himeji, Awaji, Nara.
Note: The hotel occupancy rate is referred to “Travel Accommodation Statistical Survey,” published by Japan Tourism Agency.
FREEPLUS, led by lack of hotel rooms in Osaka, enters the hotel industry by leveraging on its core competence in running Japan group tours
The scare capacity of hotel rooms in the market is a key driver for FREEPLUS to enter the hotel industry. FP HOTELS South-Namba is designed to be catered to the needs of foreign travelers, including but not limited to the overall design of the building and even the breakfast menu. We value customer feedbacks by leveraging on data from our group tour customers and also taking on-the-street surveys from foreign individual travelers staying around FP HOTELS South-Namba.
A conflict of customer needs arises in so-called budget “business” hotel between Japanese business travelers and foreign group tourists
A majority of FREEPLUS’s group tour customers mainly stay in “Business” Hotel – a budget hotel mainly catered to needs of Japanese business travelers – due to its prime location, low cost, and single occupancy. Therefore, “Business” hotel is not meant for foreign travelers who want to have a comfortable stay.
Dedicated service by bilingual staff leads to high level of customer satisfaction
Due to language barrier and difficulties in navigating themselves in another country, our foreign guests naturally interact more with our hotel staff compared to Japanese guests. Our hotel staff is mostly bilingual. They can give detailed travel tips about surrounding tourist attractions and restaurants, and hotel guests can leave their baggage at the hotel before check-in or after check-out.
Q2. What is unique about FP HOTEL South-Namba?
With Japanese disciplined, polite “Omotenashi” attitude, FREEPLUS aims for “handcrafted” friendly services
FP HOTELS South-Namba aims for “handcrafted” friendly services. On the top of Japanese-style polite and respectful service mentality, known as “Omotenashi,” we prefer our services to be called “friendly” as if our foreign guests can experience heart-to-heart services from our hotel staff. To communicate to our foreign guests in their languages, we actively recruit bilingual staff who can speak, for example, English, Chinese, or Indonesian to provide meticulous services at each language.
Premium 3 Star Hotel, with the theme of “LOW PRICE, a little LUXURY”
“Japanese rooms are very small” is one of the biggest disappointments voiced from our foreign guests. So, FP HOTELS South-Namba designed each guest room one size larger than Japanese standard rooms. There are four room sizes: “Economy Double” (Maximum Occupancy: 2), “Double” (Maximum Occupancy: 2), “Twin” (Maximum Occupancy: 2), and “Deluxe Twin” (Maximum Occupancy: 5). We are very particular about comfort of our beds and use only selected beds from Serta, the largest mattress brand in the US. Also, our selected amenities are a little luxurious ones. All rooms come with free WiFi, of course. And instead of telephone, iPad is attached to each room if our guests need to speak to the front desk. Some of our frequent customer comments we’ve received so far are “spacious room”, “good sound insulation”, “comfortable bed.”
Economy Double (13㎡)
Twin (18.5㎡ to 18.8㎡)
Deluxe Twin (25.6㎡)
Bathroom in Deluxe Twin Room
FREEPLUS pursues user-friendliness in hotel facilities and IT infrastructure
In terms of hotel facilities, electrical outlets in guest rooms are compatible with any types of plugs used around the world. Even smartphones can be charged from wall-attached USB ports. The degree of illumination in room lights can be changed, not just on and off. Instead of telephone, iPad is attached to each room if our guests need to speak to the front desk. Hotel information can be shown in seven languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian.
Outlet compatible with any types of plugs
iPad provides multi-language support
Breakfast menu is chosen to meet preferences of guests, based on FREEPLUS’s experiences in dealing with its group tour customers
For hotel breakfast, we change breakfast buffet menu based on preferences of our tour customers. For example, we prepare more rice for Filipino guests, fried fish and fruits for Thai guests, black tea, hot milk, cereal, and fruits for Indian guests because of their vegetarian diet and culture to drink chai tea in the morning. Customer satisfaction of the meal really depends on customer preferences and religious constraints, so each menu label shows whether the meal contains, for example, pork, beef, milk, and wheat. Breakfast hours are from 7am to 9:30am. For guests leaving early to catch early morning flight from Kansai Airport, we can prepare packed light meal on an advanced notice. From 3pm to midnight, the lounge area is open for guests to relax and enjoy tea and coffee free of charge.
Example of Breakfast Menu
Example of Breakfast Menu
Menu Label shows ingredients
Q3. Where is FP HOTELS South-Namba located?
Convenient to travel by public transportation as FP HOTELS South-Namba is surrounded by 3 train stations: JR, Nankai, Subway Midosuji Line
The nearest station from FP HOTELS South-Namba is called Shin-Imamiya, and both JR and Nankai train stations are within one-minute walking distance from the hotel. By Nankai, there is a direct train from Shin-Imamiya station to Kansai Airport. Also, the hotel is within one-minute walking distance from Dobutsumae Station, which is on subway midosuji line connecting Osaka’s popular tourist destinations, such as Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba, and Tennoji.
Close to Namba and Tennoji in Minami area, known for feel of Osaka’s local culture
Within three-minute walk from the hotel is Japan’s famous discount store chain, “Don Quijote,” where our group tour customers love to buy souvenirs for their friends or family. From the hotel, Namba is to the north, and Tennoji is to the east. In Namba, there is Osaka’s most popular tourist destination, “Dontonbori” and a long stretch of sheltered shopping street in Shinsaibashi. In Tennoji, many stalls compete to be the best to serve Osaka’s comfort food, “Kushikatsu.” Also, if you go further east from Tennoji by 10 minutes, it is almost impossible to miss “Abeno Harukasu,” Japan’s largest building. From the top of the building, you can see a great city view overlooking from the south side of Osaka.
FREEPLUS rents bicycles to guests who want to explore Osaka by themselves
We heard customers saying that they want to ride bicycles to explore “Minami” area. We made their wish come true by starting renting bicycles to hotel guests. With bicycles, our hotel guests can go to less touristy places by themselves where you can experience deeper, unseen side of Osaka.
Famous Japanese “ryokan” operator, Hoshino Resort to build a new hotel to redevelop Shi-Imamiya area
High-end resort operator, Hoshino Resort announced its plan to open a new luxurious city resort in the location facing Shin-Imamiya station by 2020. If redevelopment of the area goes as planned, about 14,000 square meters of undeveloped, vacant land will turn into a new cityscape even commuters passing through Shin-Imamiya Station can enjoy this new view. We foresee that “Shin-Imamiya” will be known to more tourists due to the convenient location.
Q4. What are some feedbacks from hotel guests?
High ratings in customer reviews due to the hotel design catered to needs of foreign travelers
We’ve already received good feedbacks from our foreign guests in FP HOTELS South-Namba. For our hotel rooms, “cleanliness”, “good sound insulation”, “spacious room”, “comfortable bed” are some comments appearing frequently in the reviews. From other hotels in Japan, we sometimes receive customer comments such as “the room smells cigarette smokes” or “the room is old and dirty.” We understand that “cleanliness” is very important aspect of customer satisfaction.
Meticulous customer service to communicate with foreign guests in their spoken languages
In the reviews, “international”, “friendly”, “at ease” are the words used to describe our customer service. In the front desk, we have some maps to show our hotel guests where to go in Osaka, and they can communicate to our hotel staff at ease in their spoken languages.
Not only convenient to go to the airport and famous tourist spots, nearby discount novelty store, “Don Quijote” is known as a one-stop shop for your shopping needs
For our hotel location, the reviews say, “close to JR, Nankai, Subway stations”, “direct train to Kansai Airport”, or “convenient to shop at Don Quijote.” Don Qujiote are comments appearing often in the reviews, and the proximity to Don Qujiote earned good ratings for our location.
FP HOTELS South-Namba ratings in Booking.com and Agoda (As of 16 June 2017)Some example reviews from foreign tourists
- The new hotel. The design is simple and modern. Bed and quilt pillows are very comfortable! Sound insulation in the room is very good. Staff has a very warm customer service in Chinese. Close to subway lines, it is very convenient. There are souvenir shops close to the hotel, and we recommend people to stay. Great value! (Chinese couple who stayed in Double room)
- Room sound insulation is very good! Nice to have free drinks after 3pm in the lounge. Convenient to travel. Employees are ver international! Bed is very comfortable! Employees are patient with all the questions! Especially the three Taiwanese staff makes me feel at ease! Thank you very much for all the help! Absolutely 100% recommended! Stay in this hotel with the money you spend in Ryokan. This is really a great choice! (Chinese-speaking guest from Netherlands)
- Originally booked 2 small rooms, but the hotel staff upgraded them to a spacious room which can accommodate 4 people. We save some money for the upgrade. The room comes with iPad! Location is very good, located between JR and Nakai stations. Convenient to go to the airport. 3 minutes away from exit 6 of Doubutsumae station. In the front desk, you can get some coupons for Don Quijote. Hotel staff can speak Chinese and English, so you don’t need to worry about communication. (Taiwanese group guests who stayed in Deluxe Twin Room)
- Location is close to subway, but it was quiet. The room is spacious and neat. (Korean guest)
- Should keep the warm hospitality and the cleanliness of the hotel. Overall it’s fantastic. Near the stations and sound proofing is superb. (Filipino guest)
- Right at the train station, easy access to JR, Nankai and subway. Room is very nice and clean. Super friendly staff service. English communication is good. (Thai couple who stayed in Economy Double Room)
- Brand new hotel, very friendly staff, near the train station (Polish Guest)
- Stayed here for one night to be in close proximity of the airport train. A very good choice, loved our stay. This hotel is brand new, opened for business 1 April 2017, so we were met with spotless clean rooms with all the amenities you could ask for. Walking distance to all the shops and restaurants of Namba. Beds were comfortable, though the pillows were a little hard for our taste, the duvet was like sent form heaven. (Norwenigan couple who stayed in Double Room).
- Brand new hotel, very friendly staff, near the train station (Polish guest)
Q5. What is the future of FP HOTELS?
FREEPLUS to build the second hotel to establish the FP HOTELS brand
Following the opening of the first hotel, FP HOTELS South-Namba, we will build the second hotel in Nishinari-ku, Osaka, which is not too far from the first hotel. We like to build more hotels in Japanese metropolitan areas with the same service principle to offer comfortable stays to our foreign guests. We believe increased visibility will help increase the brand strength of FP HOTELS in the hotel industry.
FP HOTELS to improve service quality by listening to customers’ opinions
“I want to explore by bicycles” is just one of the comments we’ve heard from our customers. But we took this comment seriously and started bicycle rentals for our hotel guests. Other initiatives includes the development of new function to set an alarm at the same time for our group tour customers to prevent them from waking up late to delay our tours. We always listen to our customers and strive to increase service quality at FP HOTELS South-Namba.
FP HOTELS to differentiate from other hotel brands as an event venue for foreign guests
We like to organize or host events at the lounge area in our hotel. We believe more interactions between our staff and guests will lead to better customer satisfaction. Our biggest strength is our people. Our unique team of bilingual staff is something that is not easy for our competitors to emulate.
Thank you for reading the interview with Atsuki Masuda, General Manager of FP HOTELS South-Namba.
A summary of this article can be also be accessed from “JAPAN TIMELINE,” the web portal distributing Japan travel information in seven different languages (Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian).