Japan aims to make life easier to handle for tourists

Easy-to-use courier service for luggage among offers to be rolled out for visitors

Japan has introduced a luggage delivery service that will take travellers' luggage from airports to hotels, and vice versa, to save travellers the trouble of lugging their belongings while catching public transport.

Common gripes from visitors to Japan include the language barrier, Tokyo's seemingly convoluted train networks, and a lack of escalators at train stations.

Still, tourism records are being smashed constantly, and two new services were rolled out on Thursday to make life easier for travellers.

The number of foreign travellers to Japan this year passed the 20 million threshold last Friday at what is the fastest pace of growth yet. Last month, the number of Chinese tourists grew 21 per cent over the same month last year to 2.47 million, while those from South Korea surged 35 per cent to 620,900.

By 2020, when Tokyo hosts the marquee Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan is looking at the numbers to rise to 40 million per year.

Thus, the Japan National Tourism Organisation has launched a free smartphone app in English, Korean and Chinese.

It allows visitors to search for restaurants, tax-free shops, ATMs and even hospitals that provide foreign language services in both cosmopolitan and rural areas.

Japan's largest travel agency JTB has also joined hands with tech giant Panasonic and courier service Yamato to create the Luggage-Free Travel service - available in English, Chinese and Korean first - that taps cloud-based technologies.

Travel agency JTB has teamed up with Panasonic and courier service Yamato to create the Luggage-Free Travel service, which will cost 2,000 yen (S$24) each way for small luggage and 2,500 yen for large luggage. PHOTO: ST VIDEO

From January next year, tourists will be able to apply for this service at www.luggage-free-travel.com. After keying in their itinerary, including drop-off and pick-up locations, visitors will be issued a QR code for use when checking in and retrieving their luggage at locations such as airports, train stations and hotels.

The QR code eliminates the need to fill up shipping forms in Japanese.

The aim of such a courier service, JTB managing officer Hiroki Furuno said, is to help "ease the tourism infrastructure and mitigate overcrowding on public transport". It will potentially also "revitalise rural economies while creating a tourist-friendly environment by eliminating the hassle of hauling their luggage around".

The service will cost 2,000 yen (S$24) each way for small luggage and 2,500 yen for large luggage. Additional surcharges may apply. Shipping luggage from Tokyo to Kyushu in the south-west, for instance, will incur an extra fee of 500 yen each.

Yamato managing executive officer Hideo Tanzawa said the plan is to eventually expand services to include "leisure luggage" such as skis, snowboards and golf bags, as well as "shopping luggage".

Panasonic executive officer Masahiro Ido said this was the first thrust of the traveller relationship management cloud ecosystem that the firm is building. When fully launched, it will have other services such as car rental, bicycle sharing and travel insurance.


How to use Japan's new Luggage-Free Travel service? str.sg/handsfree

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Japan aims to make life easier to handle for tourists'. Subscribe