In one line, what makes you a PUREist?
First and foremost it’s about being a passionate traveller (the true kind, who will try food from market stalls, not only from Michelin restaurants! *laughs*); but it’s also an utopia: the hope that thanks to our experience and a trip designed to fit the clients’ personality, their travels will bring something more into their (already very full) lives…
Tell us your story – how did you get where you are today?
Our story is that of a vision and a lot of teamwork… In 1996 our founder, Mr Hiroshi Kuchiki, realising that travel agencies in Japan only offered “cookie-cutter” packages oriented to the mass market and disappointed with meaningless rivalry between the industry players, was about to abandon his career in the travel business… Until he stayed at several small high-end resorts and experienced the concept of personalised luxury hospitality. Impressed and inspired, Kuchiki-san decided to establish his own travel agency with a completely different direction: providing high-end service and truly tailor-made travel advice to clients seeking quality vacations in small-scale luxurious resorts. In 1998, Magellan Resorts & Trust was born and quickly carved a niche in the Japanese Outbound market.
In 2006, taking advantage of the experience gained with Japanese travellers, he launched The Real Japan, for international luxury travellers visiting Japan. The department developed slowly until 2010, when a whole new team was brought on board. Thanks to our background of former luxury hoteliers, we completely remodelled our offering and created new, truly exclusive travel experiences for clients. PURE was also instrumental to developing new contacts with travel agents from all over the world and with each edition of the travel show we built new relationships, many of which still stand strong today. A tragic event also had an influence on our company, but I’ll answer that in the next question…
Can you share with us your single most life-enriching experience?
Again, because we function as a team, I’d like to share an experience that made an impact on all of us. As mentioned earlier, within two weeks after the March 2011 earthquake, all inbound bookings were cancelled (not just the next month or two, but for the whole year!) and we knew they were not coming back any time soon, so there was not much we could do… No point in doing any ‘sales’ actions…
Brainstorming on ways to restore confidence and bring back tourism to Japan, an idea arose and immediately caught everyone’s enthusiasm: create a contest to win a journey through all 47 prefectures of Japan to show that Japan was still safe to visit. All travel and accommodation expenses during the 100+1 days journey would be covered by the project. Impossible? Crazy? The seed for the “Travel Volunteer” project was already sprouting in our minds…
We had a very good response to the contest, with almost 2,000 contestants in 85 countries. We selected five finalists and the winning couple, Katy and Jamie, did a fantastic job, posting excellent articles on the blog and taking beautiful pictures (even of the saddest place, where the tsunami had hit); but what truly surprised us and touched us was the incredible support we received from all over Japan to make this project happen. We were – at that time – only three people working at TRJ, and had only limited knowledge of the places ‘outside the beaten track’ where we weren’t used to send our clients, and an even more limited budget… But after running our story to newspapers and on the internet, we were contacted by people from all walks of life and businesses from all over the country: whether a family guest-house in Hokkaido or a high-end restaurant in Hakone – whether a professional or a volunteer guide, many wanted to give a hand, to help this (crazy?) initiative and show that Japan was a big, interesting and safe country to visit.
In the end, the blog had more than 56,000 views during the project duration and still receives many visits every month… But what truly enriched us were the human exchanges and experiences we’ve had during these 100+1 days, with this volunteer couple and all those who supported us and volunteered in each 47 prefectures of Japan, to make the project a success.
What does the term ‘experiential travel’ mean to you?
To me, experiential travel means using the opportunities offered by travel to partake in experiences, as opposed to simply relaxing on a sun lounger or merely ‘seeing’ places and ticking off a list. Experiential travel doesn’t have to (and simply cannot) be a life changing experience all the time. But it should help broaden one’s horizons, understanding and knowledge of how other people live, work (or even ‘play’). For example, visiting the atelier or an artisan and understanding the process behind the making of “washi” paper or lacquer ware will enable one to understand the work behind it and better appreciate the finished product. Of course, PURE and The Real Japan focus on luxury travel and on the experiential side of it, but I personally believe it doesn’t always have to be a luxury experience either: an encounter and conversation with a monk, with maybe meditation session, can lead someone to start a daily practise that will indeed be a life changing experience.
Describe your ideal client: how do they approach travel?
That’s a great question! First of all, we work mostly through Travel Agents, so it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, as we like to know a lot about the clients… What I always explain when I meet an agent for the first time is: The more we know about the clients, the better we can personalise the itinerary and the experiences we will offer. If you give me basic information (number of days and number of guests), our travel consultant will only be able to come up with a generic itinerary. On the contrary, if you give us a lot of information about their personal centres of interest, then we will be able to dig into the thousands of possibilities that Japan has to offer and come up with something that will really connect them to the country. For example, if we know that ‘Mrs’ actually likes textile design, then we’ll suggest this artisan workshop in a little town near Okayama, where they can learn and try ‘indigo dye’… But if we do not know it, how can we guess?
So it is more important for us, to receive these little details rather than an already fixed logistics, which would be more a limitation than a help to us. To be a bit provocative, I’d say: “You know your client better than us and we know Japan better than you, so help us understand your client’s mind and then trust us for the rest!”
What made you decide to join PURE Life Experiences and how has doing so benefitted your business?
We decided to join PURE because (back in 2009) the show perfectly reflected our company: small-scale and focused on high-end experiential luxury travel. We haven’t looked back since then and even if PURE has grown a bit over the years, it retains this community feeling and keeps surprising us.
What role do you think PURE has to play in the high-end experiential travel industry?
PURE is a pioneer in the high-end experiential travel, so obviously, it has already played a role in this industry, helping small-scale companies (like ours and others) reach a global yet targeted audience. On the other hand, being able to discover experiences suppliers in Antarctica, Africa and Japan within the same hour, surely also enriches the day of a travel designer…
In addition, I appreciate the fact that PURE is also bringing focus and exposure on important ecological and human initiatives (such as the Great Plains Conservation society, or the initiatives supported by Edward Norton).
So, product knowledge development and raising awareness would be the main two roles that PURE has to play in the industry.
If there were one thing you could change about the travel industry, what would it be?
It’s of course wishful thinking, but since you ask… Tourism can be a formidable agent of change in positive ways, but it can also deeply affect not only populations, but also the environment and mass tourism (as it is done today) does more harm than good. Think about the effects of 3,000 people from a cruise ship arriving in a small Caribbean port island, or hundreds of gasoline-powered buses on the jungles and villages surrounding Angkor Wat! I do not have a solution for this, but that would be what I’d change…
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