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(5/7/2011) In the aftermath of the tragic tsunami that hit coastal Japan on March 11, 2011, many Bali hotels abruptly cancelled planned sales mission to Japan, feeling the time was not right for promotional visits.
An exception to that view was the AYANA Resort and Spa, Bali whose General Manager, Charles De Foucault, led a three-member team to four cities to maintain contact with the Japanese business community during a period of national tragedy.
Balidiscovery.com recently caught up with Charles De Foucault over a glass of wine for the following exclusive interview.
THE INTERVIEW: Charles De Foucault, General Manager, AYANA Bali Resort and Spa
Balidiscovery.com: Why visit Japan at such a difficult time when other hotels were postponing their trips?
De Foucault: "We had scheduled a Sales Call to Japan a while ago, for myself, our Japanese Business Development Director, and our Japanese Sales Manager. When the tsunami happened, the knee-jerk reaction was to cancel, but we realized that this was the time when our Japanese partners would appreciate a visit most. So we kept the original schedule and last month (April) visited Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka."
Balidiscovery.com: Following the March 11th tsunami, what is your observation on business to Bali generally and to the Ayana Resort from the Japanese market in particular?
De Foucault: "Japanese arrivals have fallen across Bali, including at Ayana. No doubt about that, but Japan remains our #1 market. We have just had Golden Week, the busiest travel period for Japanese, and our rate and occupancy were both higher this year than last, pushing our total occupancy above 90%. The Japanese are a very resilient people and we have probably had more deferrals of travel than cancellations. In addition, Ayana is relatively buffered because we have a diverse cross-section of nationalities, and very strong partners in Japan."
Balidiscovery.com: Most hotels are postponing Japanese sales initiatives for the near future. Why did Ayana persist in making the Japan trip and what, if anything, did you learn during the trip?
De Foucault: "Amidst the radiation warnings, we obviously considered whether we should still go. But we had agents calling us asking us not to cancel, and we realized how important it was that we didn't turn our backs on them when they needed us most. It wasn't a hard decision in the end; we have strong business and personal ties to Japan with a Tokyo Sales Office and the largest number of native Japanese staff of any resort in Bali, with a separate Japanese weddings department and dedicated Japanese Guest Relations Officers."
"We didn't go there with a hard-sell approach; we went there to ask how they were doing, listen to them and find out what we could do to help them through this time. People were extremely pleased to see us and we felt very welcome. You can imagine, inbound tourism and business to Japan has almost completely dropped off and many foreigners have left Tokyo, which is really affecting the economy and confidence of the people. The best thing we could do was go there and show that we still have confidence in them, we value them as our long-term partners, and we are willing to do what we can to help in their recovery."
"It was interesting to see how life goes on; we travelled by subway a lot and we went to the tallest building in Tokyo for lunch one day, where we felt a small after-shock while sitting on the 38th floor. It was just a little one, and the Japanese there hardly flinched. In Tokyo, the biggest impact you notice is the power shortages, and people are really concerned about the approaching summer and not being able to use their air-conditioners. In the other cities, they were not directly affected and life goes on as normal."
Balidiscovery.com: The Japanese market to Bali was already declining dramatically prior to March 11th. What's you view on future tourism prospects for Bali from Japan in both the medium and long term?
De Foucault: "The market has been hit by economical woes and the collapse of Japan Airlines, but I don't think anything is going to change the Japanese love affair with Bali. This is Japan's 2nd most popular wedding destination, after Hawaii, and on the flip side, Japan remains Bali's second biggest market. Direct flights are returning with players such as Garuda, offering in-flight immigration clearance for flights from Japan - a major bonus that is very professionally and efficiently handled. The recent announcement from Lion Air is also promising, and in the meantime Japanese continue to come here via Jakarta and Singapore. We take a long-term view and are very positive on the recovery for the Japanese market."
Balidiscovery.com: The Ayana has just been the first hotel in Bali to receive tsunami certification. Please explain what this means for the hotel and its guests?
De Foucault: "Although our cliff-top location puts us at low-risk in case of a tsunami, we wanted to be prepared to take care of guests in case of any emergency. We actually applied for Tsunami Ready certification before the March 11 earthquake, as it's always been important to our Japanese guests. The fact that we're low-risk is no reason to be complacent. This certification enables us to safeguard our guests and also assist with people from outside the hotel, who may come here to seek refuge on higher ground, in case of a tsunami. We are connected to an early warning system and have procedures in place to immediately evacuate our facilities at the bottom of the cliff - Rock Bar, Ocean Beach Pool, Kisik restaurant, Spa on the Rocks, and Kubu Beach - and assist those in the nearby community."
[AYANA Resort and Spa, Bali]