Jungfraujoch region – is there enough done to welcome and host Japanese customers?

In this case study in the subject “economy and industry in its environment” I am talking about how Asian tourists – especially the Japanese, are being handled and welcomed in Grindelwald. There are many tourism spots in Switzerland that attract Asian customers, such as Interlaken, Bern, the Matterhorn etc. But there is one spot in particular, which the Japanese in seem to be crazy about: The Jungfraujoch. The “top of Europe” is the highest reachable spot by public transport in Europe. Built a hundred years ago, the train takes you right through the massive Eiger north face and drops you off at 3454 meters above sea level (www.jungfrau.ch).

 

The sight over the Alps is breath taking and the Japanese cameras are running on full speed. In order to get to the Jungfraujoch, you will first of all end up in Grindelwald in the district of Bern. Grindelwald is well known in Japan. “In Japan, Grindelwald is a very famous place. More famous even than Zurich”, says traveller Katsuhiko Naito. (Bechtel, 2005)

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In 2010, 672’000 people visited the Jungfraujoch, which provided the transport company, the “Jungfraubahn” with revenues over 80 million Swiss francs for the trip to the Jungfraujoch alone, says Urs Kessler, CEO of the company (sda, 2011).

About 70’000 Japanese tourists visit the village of Grindelwald every year (www.sf.tv, 2011). So, much must be done to welcome and host all there people.

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This of course is, especially because the typical Japanese traveller is quite different from a western traveller. First of all, there is a language barrier, which might cause problems – depending on the person’s English level. Also, the Japanese share a completely different culture and might get confused with some things. And last but not least, I know out of experience, how nice it is to be abroad and meet someone in a tourist destination who speaks your own language. It simplifies the whole experience a great deal. You can connect with the destination much more and it adds a lot of value.

Therefore it is very important for the destination Grindelwald – Jungfrau to provide services, concerning this big ethnic group. Also it might be a great business opportunity, because obviously there is a market to improve the experience for the Japanese and there is always room to get better.

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Grindelwald is handling this issue well so far. Once you arrive at the station, you will see most of the important signs in Japanese as well.

 

Of course all the players in the destination must work together in order to reach the goal of providing a great destination to which the Japanese traveller gladly returns. And this time maybe not only for a day trip to the Jungfraujoch. A very important factor as well, is that the traveller spreads the word back home. Something, that surely helped the Grindelwald region tremendously to become such a well know destination in Japan.

 

In order to understand better how hotels handle the issue, I called some of them up. The feedback was quite surprising. Firstly it’s quite rare for a hotel in Grindelwald to have Japanese-speaking staff at the front desk. Also, there aren’t many single visitors or couples from Japan. By far the biggest percentage isn’t the individual traveller but group visitors, which of course simplifies a lot of things. If one visits the destination in a group, there will almost certainly be a guide. A guide, who of course knows his way around, speaks perfect Japanese and English and therefore eradicates a big part of the original problems already. Miss Stalder from the Hotel Eiger in Grindelwald also explained me that over 90% of all Japanese guests visit the destination in summer. They arrive in big groups, visit the Jungfraujoch and off they go. “More than a day is very seldom for groups”, Miss Stalder adds. (Stalder, 2012)

So most Japanese visitors come and enjoy the destination in summer and in groups.

The Hotel Eiger though, has 2 employees who are Japanese. If they are useful or rather expendable, was my next question. The answer was clear. The two Japanese employees have been with the hotel for over 2 decades and are highly appreciated. Even though the groups come with a guide, there are still many individual questions to be answered since the guide isn’t always around. From the 4 hotels I called up (Hotel Eiger, Hotel Caprice, Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof and the Hotel Kirchbühl) the Eiger was the only one that employed Japanese people. Also miss Stalder didn’t know about any other hotels in the area that has people with Japanese language knowledge at the front desk.

I think this is where there definitely is room for improvement. Even though many single travellers speak English, I think it adds a lot of value to the hotel if the guest can speak in his mother tongue. Of course I’m not suggesting that the biggest part of employees working at hotel front desks should become unable to speak Swiss-German and therefore also distort the destinations identity. But if the hotel triggers Japanese customers in their marketing strategy, it is vital to have at least one employee who can be there for the guest.

 

In case the guest doesn’t get the help he needs at the hotel, he still has other possibilities. Of course the Internet can be very helpful, but talking face-to-face to someone and getting inside tips is always much nicer. That was probably what the Japanese couple Ichiro and Yasuyo Ando were thinking, when they opened up the “Japanese information bureau” in Grindelwald. For Over 25 years now they have been successfully helping and assisting Japanese customers to get around. The most frequent question is always: “where do I have to go to see the Eiger?”- “You just have to look up” Ichiro than always replies. (Bechtel, 2005)

This shows how clueless some Japanese travellers are when they arrive at the destination and how much they appreciate help by someone who has knowledge of their language and the region.

 

Overall, Japanese people are hosted great in Grindelwald. Most of the problems I imagined were eliminated by the fact that groups don’t really need that much help. If a traveller comes by alone, signs in Japanese are guiding his way, and he will definitely find accommodation where he will find Japanese-speaking personnel. In my opinion, more hotels might consider employing someone who can be at service to this customer segment.

The same thing applies to public transport and attraction companies.

 

  

List of references

Bechtel, D. (19. 3 2005). http://www.swissinfo.ch. (swissinfo, Herausgeber) from http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/Home/Archive/The_Japanese_and_their_Swiss_mountains.html?cid=1022392 called

sda (Hrsg.). (20. 04 2011). http://www.aargauerzeitung.ch. from http://www.aargauerzeitung.ch/wirtschaft/die-jungfraubahn-spuert-die-krise-in-japan-107334941 called

Stalder, M. (27. 11 2012). (M. Sommer, Interviewer)

Wiegmann, C. B. (09. 08 2010). http://www.reuters.com. From http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/09/us-swiss-japan-tourism-idUSTRE6781WB20100809 called

http://www.jungfrau.ch. (no date). From http://www.jungfrau.ch/tourismus/ausflugsziele/jungfraujoch-top-of-europe/erlebnisse/ abgerufen

http://www.sf.tv. (17. 3 2011). (Schweizer Fernsehen) from http://www.tagesschau.sf.tv/Nachrichten/Archiv/2011/03/17/Schweiz/Grindelwald-Japaner-bleibt-stark! called

 

Images:

 

1:http://www.aargauerzeitung.ch/wirtschaft/die-jungfraubahn-spuert-die-krise-in-japan-107334941

2:  http://bc01.rp online.de/polopoly_fs/themendienst-bericht-matthias-pieren-april-klick-1.2802863.1335120141!/httpImage/2168262635.jpg_gen/derivatives/rpo_zoom1024/2168262635.jpg

3: https://maps.google.com/

 

 

November 2012,

 

Marcial Sommer

701_e

HES – SO Sierre 

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