072: Kyushu Journeys: A Business Blueprint for Sharing Japan’s Local Travel Gems w/ Simon Gilbert

podcast Sep 23, 2020

On this episode of the Small Business Japan Podcast I talk with entrepreneur and Kyushu travel specialist Simon Gilbert about how he has somehow navigated his businesses through many rough waters over the years and how he and his wife have built a business around their passion for the Kyushu area.  

Simon is from the UK but headed east 25 years ago. This is his third stint in Japan and he loves living in Kyushu. Simon and his Japanese wife own and manage Kyushu Journeys. This is an inbound travel agency offering travel planning services for visitors to Kyushu. Prior to this Simon managed and part-owned a dive center in Indonesia.  

Simon and his wife are just coming into their third year of operations in Kyushu and before this they owned/managed a tourist business in Indonesia for 10+ years with a couple of friends. In both businesses he has been in charge of all aspects of online marketingWordpress development, SEO, online advertising and social media.  

They somehow navigated their Indonesian business through the wild rides of Bali bombs, SARS, bird flu, financial crash, 9/11, earthquakes, tsunami etc. In the current climate I think this may be of interest to many of you out there who are struggling and dealing with new difficulties in running your business. 

They got in at the right time opening their scuba school in Bali, Indonesia. When they started there were 7 scuba schools in the area, when they sold it there were over 50.  

He focused on niche marketing and SEO in order to draw people the Kyushu area.  

He receives a trip planning fee and develops a unique experience for the customer/traveler 

He has found that bespoke services are difficult to scale.  

On the initial questionnaire they gather info like budget, time, activities they like to do etc. Not asking specifically where they want to go or stay. Focus on designing the experience.  

Affiliate commissions or referrals isn’t really a thing in Japan in terms of hotels and accommodations. 

The online business model has benefitted him especially in the time of the pandemic.  

They stand out from the crowd by being the only inbound Kyushu specific travel agency. They can focus all of their energy to catering to Kyushu related marketing.  

For starting a business, just do it. But before you do it you need to define every cost for the first 2 year. Rent, electricity, internet etc. On top of that add all of the family’s living costs, food, travel... Because you may not get paid for a few ears and you need to be able to survive.  

An English language bootcamp may be a possible addition/pivot with the business as an additional revenue stream. They were smart to keep it broad when getting their business license and English language was added to the list of travel related endeavors.  






Traveling Japan’s Most Amazing Island – podcast in the works 


Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear 






Simon, welcome to the show. 


Josh, thank you very much for inviting Maine. 


What is your connection to Japan? 


Live here I'm here now. Um, I'm married to my Japanese wife. 


And together with my Japanese wife, we own and manage a Japanese inbound Kyushu travel agent. 


OK, Ann, you're stepping to Japan. Am I correct that you came from Indonesia? 


I did I was in Japan first I was in Japan, a couple of times about 20 years ago and then moved from Japan to Indonesia. You're right for about 15 years, running a different business in the travel industry there sold up about three years ago. 


And came back to Kyushu and my wife's family from about three years ago and and started our travel agent. 


What originally inspired you to make the leap to Japan? 


20 years ago I guess I was like a uh, a lot of people do. I was traveling around Asia and I had a backpack on my back and wanted to extend my holiday. And in those days that was the time you could come to Japan with nothing more than an English accent basically and get a job teaching English. 


I tried, I did, and then I stayed. 


For about a year, um, and actually, that was just when the bubble was bursting. 


So I left after that and then I came back again for about four years and then as I say, I left again. Went to Indonesia and came back three years ago, OK? 


So it was first in Indonesia that you. 


Got your entrepreneurial roots is that correct yeah. 


That's correct, I would never have, I guess like a lot of entrepreneurs, you know, I never thought I'm an entrepreneur. I'm waiting to step aside. I stumbled into it. I started work for a couple of buddies who had just started a new company and soon they invited me to invest in join it an. 


Yeah it did. It took off from that. 


What was it like, um, owning a company with friends? 


Um, yeah we had a. 


We had some amazing, you know my Indonesian years. 


We're really great years, you know, I as I say I went there with no entrepreneurial skills we we built up. You know, not not bad company. I learned everything I know about running a business all about online marketing about management. Had a great time there we. 


To answer your question so it started off, there was me and three buddies. Um, you know. Yeah, we had our ups and downs and we had like Ding Dong's, but we could always settle it with a beer afterwards. And you know, I still fly to back to Bali to see them every every year or so. You know. So it it was good working with buddies. You know I always had someone at. 


Watching my back always had someone I could trust. Always had someone who could tell me you know, this is a terrible decision. Why did you do that? And you know could really speak straight to Maine. 


Well, 10 years is a long time to you know to. 


Keep any business running um. 


What was it then that? 


Led you to leaving that business and. 


Coming back to Japan. 


It was, it was every reason came together. It was, um, personal reasons. It was. 


Emotional reasons it was business reasons. It was the state of everything came together about the right time I felt I said I had a really great time in Indonesia. Some of the best years of my life. And I just thought you know. 


I'm at the top now an as nothing much I can learn from it. I'm not going to make as much money going forward as I have now, it was just a a seemed a good time to sell. And amazingly, we just absolutely amazingly we. 


We agreed to sell and sold and got a deposit in our bank account within seven days. It was just just unbelievable, so everything worked out timing and and it it. It was really lucky. Lucky time for me, yeah. 


Well, that's a good exit then an you remain. You know friends with some of the people that. 


You know you started that with. 


During that time, were you thinking of a new plan or a new business idea back in Japan? 


Um, I knew my wife wanted, you know, the Japanese often like like most people. I guess she followed me to Indonesia. She she told me actually just when we left after being there for 15 years that she never liked it. 


She she kept that to herself just right. In the end, she said, I'm really glad to go. I never liked it here and she, you know her parents, we we. We moved back with her parents, my parents in law, which is where we're living now. So you know they're getting on a bit. It was time for her to to come back, but throughout the time we had been in Indonesia, we. 


We came back here just about every year and we always took a little trip around. Kyushu usually took my mother-in-law with us. 


Which staying at Unsan or visit a nice ryokan, I always said to my wife 'cause This is great. You know we gotta make a travel agent, this is this is what people will love. 


We did OK and did your previous business give you some experience in the the tourism industry? Or was that unrelated? 


No, is absolutely related. It was. 


It was actually a scuba diving center, um? 


But all the skills that I'm using now was exactly the skills I needed there, so it was, you know, running a business. It was online marketing. It was dealing with clients in the tourism business. So when we set this company up, we really felt this is right. Exactly what we know how to do. 


Just slightly shifting within the travel industry. 


Was the area that you were running or scuba agency? Was this a already a tourist destination? 


It was it was Bali, Indonesia which you know. I'm sure you've heard of is, uh, a huge tourist destination. But you know when we started. 


Um, where are we now is? 


Not far of 20 we had that business for about 15 years, so it's about 20 years ago it was at the very start of the boom, so again I was such lucky timing getting in when we started in my little town, my not even a tower. My little village there was seven scuba diving centres when we laughed when I left there was almost 50. 


So just at the time we got in was a really good time to start and it was just so it's hard to imagine now it was just at the start of the Internet. I mean at the time most of my competitors. 


Either didn't have a website or had a website so horrible I do not have one. You know, Google was just coming up people search engine optimization and Google Rankings where nobody knew about that then. So we got in right at the start of that. So it was such lucky timing that Valley boomed and 


Online marketing boom. Just at the time we got in and and continued booming the whole time. Good good. 


So then was it? 


A new learning curve for you starting out in Kyushu, Um, not that Kyushu's not popular, but it's not. 


You know, kill to. It's not the Tokyo you know for for someone first coming to Japan, you know that Kyushu is probably not yet the first thing that rolls off their tongue, as the the places they want to visit. 


Yeah, it's interesting because, um, when I first started, I. 


You know we get a lot of clients from online advertising paper click. 


Which is Google ads and Facebook ads? 


When I first started, I did a lot of advertising for you know, Japan Trip Japan travel an I was spent a lot of money and got almost zero response. 


I was too broad. 


It's too broad. And then when I started focusing just on Kyushu, it really worked. An accept OK. Recently we had the Rugby World Cup here. 


So we had people coming just for the rugby, but those people aside, that's kind of a special case. Literally 100% of our clients without exception, have been to Japan before. 


They've all done. Like you said, they've done the the Golden Triangle they've done after they're done in Kyoto. They've done Tokyo. They kind of got that out of their system and then couple of your year a couple of years later they they want to come back to Japan, but they're looking for something different than looking for the more traditional that they're looking for the Japan. Maybe that they imagined. 


They would get the first time and and so to answer your question, yeah, it's it's. It's different kind of marketing. You have to do, you're not, it's it's niche marketing basically. 


OK, so I guess walk us through some of the. 


Things that you offer for your. 


Agency, I guess what would be some of your different revenue streams? 


An we basically have one. 


Zero we have at the moment we have zero revenue streams. 


As you can imagine. 


Painful time, well, actually I have to thank have to thank you Josh. I just got one client Anna awhile ago on your podcast. You interviewed Elizabeth from Bihar, Asia. 


Yes, yes, she's. 


Who runs of has a very similar business model to me. 


And at the time I I had her interview, I just contacted her. I said hi, I heard you on the podcast I'm in Kyushu. Let's grab a coffee and a couple of weeks ago she contacted me, said I have a client, wants to come to Kyushu. 


And so she is kindly passed the client to me. Nice. So I have to thank you and I have to thank Elizabeth that I excuse me. I do have a little bit of income coming through. That's great. Yeah yeah. Unlike Elizabeth, my income is from a a trip planning fee. 



So most of my clients. 


Come in as a couples or families and I charge a one off fee. 


I guess on average it's about 50,000 yen, about 500, five $100 to plan their trip an. And that's just the trip planning fee. OK, so the good thing about this? There's there's no associated costs with it, so and it costs for hotel or transport, the client will pay to me separately or. 


Or may pay direct encounter the hotel vendor or that so the good thing is, I I it's you could say you know it's kind of pure profit. 


An the bad thing is about this kind of business model, is you you? It's difficult to scale. 


Yeah, quite you know we offer various bespoke service um so yeah we get not budding compact client but you can't do too many clients. It's I guess it's you'd say it's the opposite of of pile 'em high sell 'em cheap. 


So that's right, that's almost entirely our main income stream is trip planning fee with this virus mess. We're obviously, you know. Rethinking and coming up with some other ideas, but our business model is is custom trip planning. 


OK, and do they. I'm assuming they give you like a a budget range of what type of places they're looking to stay at. Or I mean, do they? Do they even know where they want to go? Or I mean some people might not even know that all you know a local sake brewery might. 


Be interesting. 


So it's a bit of a mix. Most don't really know where they want to stay, but they know the kind of things that they want to do. So what the the way we work is we we chat with them by email or face to face like this sometimes. Once they're in, we will take the planning fee and then I'll send them a questionnaire which is quite detailed. 


But rather than asking on the questionnaire, where do you want to stay? So far I won't give them a list of cities or places. I'll give them a list of the kind of things they want to do, so it might be visit a Castle or see nice scenery or visit a sake brewery and there's a list of. 


Let's say 20 or 30 things. 


Look her based on experience. 


Yeah, an on that to answer your question on that list, we say uh, what your budget range for accommodation and we have about three or four different ranges and night. And we say do you want to stay in a ryokan for one night or 100 so we get a? 


Good idea from the questionnaire. Yeah, and then our job is to put all that together. 


Into hopefully a circular route that matches the number of days that they're staying. My wife, who's a kyushu local in our trip planner, is if I can say very, very good at that. You know, she it's it's like a big puzzle you know to fit in as much of those things that they want to do as you can in a circular route. 


Without them traveling too far each day and. 


Then she really have to think through yeah, what, what? How long things are gonna take and plan out the day. 


Yeah, it's it's it's military precision planning. You know she she really gets ahead down and and sits all day or one or more days. 


Black out then we will go back to them with a kind of proposed itinerary and our service includes kind of unlimited revisions. OK, but because actually because we give them a pretty detailed questionnaire, um? 


Luckily, most of our clients say yes, you know. 


It sounds good. You hit the mark. 


Hit the mark a few maytas for minor adjustments, a few clients you know, obviously. 


A more hands-on than others, but generally you know once she's she's given him an itinerary that they're pretty good to go with it, and then we'll just fill in all the details. We'll Add all the restaurants suggestions and. 


You know? 


After they have the itinerary, then are you? 


Physically taking them around, holding their hand and and doing that or or is this are you creating a self guided? 


Type of thing. 


It's almost always self guided. We actually very rarely meet our clients because we don't live in in Fukuoka City, which is where they fly into so we rarely meet our clients, but some of our my my wife sometimes guides if they have specialist requests or my wife's very. 


Very interested and very knowledgeable and has good connections in in the pottery, villages of Kyushu, for example, so we will often include a one day guided tour, taking them to visit some kills to see some artisans at work, and my wife explains about it. 


An or it could be a visit to some traditional town where we visit, you know, uh, an old missile, soy sauce producer or so my wife will guide sometimes for stuff like that. But to answer your question, normally it's it's self guided I would say. 


Maybe 80% of our clients are doing self drive and the rest are doing train and sometimes we arrange a. 

17:26 Speaker 1 

A car and a driver or a bus and a driver for the especially for the bigger families. But as you know this is pretty pricey in Japan, so self queue. She's great for self drive. You know it's the roads are open and it's beautiful driving noise. You don't see a traffic jam here. 

17:47 Speaker 1 

Um, we drive on the left, which you don't. Most of our client countries do, so you know. And we obviously arrange the car with English GPS for them and arrange all the navigation such it's pretty easy once they get here and we are available on. You know wats app or call if if they get stuck. 

18:07 Speaker 1 

You know they have a language problem altogether lost where online for them as well. That's better, yeah? 

18:15 Speaker 2 

Have you thought about or or played around with the idea of? 

18:20 Speaker 2 

Maybe bring in some additional revenue through like affiliates. 

18:27 Speaker 1 

Um, for example. 

18:29 Speaker 2 

For example, like if a hotel like if a certain group of hotels like you become basically like a referral to the hotels. 

18:38 Speaker 1 

Yeah, you know yeah sorry an in Indonesia in Bali, you know you could make a fortune from from commissions. 

18:47 Speaker 1 

You know, people in Bali is crazy. They're offering like 30 forty 50% right Commission in Japan is not a thing. 

18:57 Speaker 1 

You know, occasionally we get something, but it it's. 

19:00 Speaker 2 

It's it's. 

19:01 Speaker 1 

It's really not a thing in Japan and very often, uh, probably. Usually our clients will book their own accommodation. 

19:12 Speaker 1 

Coda or similar? 'cause they gotta go to points. Or they've got their goal, their account. So it's it's often easier for them to book directly. So we we make a bit like that, but it it's pretty minor. Minor revenue stream. I think JRF on the wrong page 1%. 

19:31 Speaker 2 

Yeah, not a whole lot of incentive there. 

19:35 Speaker 2 

Well, well, if there's any other. Um, Japan preneurs out there who are in a similar industry. Maybe they can shoot us a whole bunch of ideas that you might be able to pick and choose. Maybe we can try to build some more revenue streams for that. 

19:50 Speaker 1 

Yeah, actually, um, you know say with this virus thing, because we we've been. 

19:56 Speaker 1 


19:58 Speaker 1 

Inbound from abroad, and obviously you know visitors are literally banned from Japan at the moment. Yeah, so we're starting to, um, we're starting to pivot now to look more at the. 

20:12 Speaker 1 

Domestic market. 

20:15 Speaker 1 

And getting outside the travel industry a little bit just just do anything we can. 

20:22 Speaker 2 

Survive and thrive. 

20:25 Speaker 1 


20:28 Speaker 2 

So you've been in Japan for awhile now and wondering what's something you've changed your mind about regarding Japan? 

20:36 Speaker 1 

When I was growing up as a kid and I always imagine Japan, everyone was so good at business and it was a real, you know, cool place to do business but. 

20:48 Speaker 1 

I don't know if it's just hearing kyushu, you know where more you know. A lot of a lot of the people who deal with, say, uh, uh, how real gun owners you know traditional Japanese ends that often a mom and pop shop, but they're often, you know that they're not that sometimes there, you know 60s or 70s maybe? 

21:10 Speaker 1 

And you know, everyone in Japan knows this funny thing that people still use faxes, for example. It's it's not just using a faction, or sometimes to make one booking. We will have to fax and call so many times and then it comes. So in a inefficient. 

21:28 Speaker 1 

And actually we we still have we we have one group from Germany who booked before the virus started. They booked. 

21:38 Speaker 1 

There's more than a year ago, they know they're really in advance in their 20 people, well, an you know some of the real cans we put them in. They may only have you know 10 or 15 rooms. Yeah, so you know just one of them, particularly done have more than one of them, particularly called. And he said, look great, we've got. You've got 10 rooms. We've got 20 people. They're willing to pay in advance. Let's book. 

21:59 Speaker 1 

And they said no, no, no. All bookings open three months before. 

22:05 Speaker 1 

Yeah, we know your booking is usually open three months before, but hey, we got the money. We can fill your hotel right? 

22:11 Speaker 2 

I've literally got business for you. 

22:13 Speaker 1 

They say Fonas Richie literally said phone us back on the 15th of July at 9:00 AM. 

22:22 Speaker 1 

And you know, with a big Group 3 months is cutting it short right now. If you. If you can't. If they for some reason and won't take that booking. 

22:31 Speaker 1 

It's Daniel really stuck scrabbling around trying to find beds for 20 people in rural kyushu is not that easy and actually just yesterday for the same group, um, another hotel that we had booked wrote us back and said. 

22:47 Speaker 1 

We've decided not to take the booking because we're worried about the Corona situation. 

22:54 Speaker 1 

Well, we're all worried about the coronas, but this this trip isn't till November. 

22:59 Speaker 1 

So you know. So like I say the the the way of doing business here. I mean if I was a hotel owner and I guess you were and someone said I've got 20 people to your hotel. 

23:13 Speaker 1 

You would you would you would grab it? Yeah, definitely. So that's that's one negative thing I found one. I don't want to leave on a negative note one. 

23:23 Speaker 1 

One positive thing I mean I I moved to this. It's not a rural. 

23:26 Speaker 1 

Area, but it's. 

23:28 Speaker 1 

You know there's no foreigners in my neighborhood? Um, I'm the only foreign member of the gym. I was I was in hospital for a while. Here I was. The definitely the only foreigner in hospital and a few people said to me. You know, you sure you want to live in the in the isolated place like this. 

23:45 Speaker 1 

You know, without exception, everyone has been so kind and so nice, and I haven't had any negative reaction to being a foreigner. Everyone stops in chat, so this is one, you know. One thing that I, I guess I've changed my mind about or read that how it be being the only foreigner here. But it is not a problem at all. 

24:07 Speaker 2 

That's good an you seem to have, you know, good Internet connection an you're able to, you know, run your business. You know on line and an connect with the world. 

24:19 Speaker 1 

Yeah, this is. I mean this is 1 good thing with our business model. During this virus you know my business is this laptop in my mother-in-law's house, so I I don't have big, you know, I don't rent. I don't have a storefront location. I don't have an office to rent, so you know, that's really, that's really paying dividends now for sure. 

24:40 Speaker 2 

Now, what's something that you do to stand out from the crowd or get attention? You said you're the only foreigner there, but I'm wondering about other. There are other. 

24:54 Speaker 2 

Bespoke tourists guides or who do you consider your competition? 

25:01 Speaker 1 

Um, there's quite a few. 

25:05 Speaker 1 

It's quite a few. I guess that you'd call them freelance guides in Kyushu. Actually, for a proper kyushu inbound travel agent, just. 

25:18 Speaker 1 

Offering Kyushu just to the English speaking market with, uh, you know. Proper travel agent license. I kind of guess where maybe the only one. 

25:28 Speaker 1 

So that's by default. We stand out from the crowd because we are the crowd, right? 

25:37 Speaker 1 

We, you know. Obviously the big companies like JT, B&H IS offer offer khushu inbound, but I hope I believe we. 

25:47 Speaker 1 

We offer a different kind of service like that way, you know, we really focus on, I hope really exceptional customer service. My my wife is so knowledgeable about kyushu even off the beaten path stuff. We're both so passionate about Kyushu, so this hopefully helps us stand out from the The Big Beasts of the. 

26:09 Speaker 1 

Japanese tourists industry and I guess as you said, you know the online marketing. A lot of travel agents in Japan ister maybe more traditional style of marketing, where you know going to trade shows and bro paper brochures and stuff. You know where 100% online marketing. So maybe this helps us. 

26:31 Speaker 1 

Stand out a bit as well. 

26:32 Speaker 2 

Yeah, through some of your social media and your your website, it really seems like you are promoting, um, local Kyushu culture and some of the festival's that go on there and Dan is. I'm assuming that's part of the what you're trying to appeal to people. 

26:52 Speaker 1 

Yeah, that's right. Well, it's it's what we're trying to appeal to people is what people want when they come to Kyushu. They they don't want the big cities they they want the rural life they want to see the real Japan they want to see the Japan that was long lost in in cities like Osaka and Tokyo and it's what we love. You know we really love this kind of thing ourself. We love this. 

27:15 Speaker 1 

History stuff and this culture stuff and the festival. So it really works well. What we sell them like to sell what we offer is really what we love and we're passionate about so it all fits together well and that's what our our clients are looking for. 

27:29 Speaker 2 

That's good, what's something that you know? Is there anything that comes up commonly from comments from the customers like I wasn't expecting this or? 

27:39 Speaker 1 

And most of our clients are from regional, so they're from, let's say, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and they're all from big cities. 

27:47 Speaker 1 

So when they come here and they see the gorgeous kyushu countryside, you know it really is really is beautiful here that that often bowled over by that, and Kyushu is very volcanic. We have a a so volcano which you know is great. You go there and the sulfur and the smoke is bubbling up. You can smell it, and sometimes you can look. 

28:11 Speaker 1 

Right down into the crater. So this is something very unique and you know, I think the tourist board has branded Kyushu onsen island because we have so many onsen, so and it's A the Onsen, but be the gorgeous ryokan. The Japanese in, like you know, these are just. These are just to die for no. Some of the nice ones, so. 

28:34 Speaker 1 

This always attracts people, and one of the main, especially it's quite. It's interesting actually. When I have clients from your country, the states or my country, the UK, they they often don't mention this. But my Asian clients first email will say I want the best food. Really good food queue, even even within Japan. 

28:55 Speaker 1 

Issue is is well known for its its food, so especially the Asian tourists. I want the you know the best beef and I want the best seafood and you know I want the really good veggies. I want the raw man and I had a few of the local dishes Watanabe and champ on and so they you know they know what they want with the Food and. 

29:16 Speaker 1 

Food here is great and again my wife isn't big Big Foodie and she knows a lot of off the beaten path. Little, you know restaurants that they wouldn't find on their own that that really you know in Japan yourself as a restaurant there people really care about food here. Yeah, care about the the where the food comes from, how it's grown, how it's cooked, how it's served, what it saved on. 

29:39 Speaker 2 

Right, it's very next level. 

29:41 Speaker 1 

In Kyushu, there's so much gorgeous pottery, so the whole experience. Our clients are really knocked out by the food here, for sure. 

29:52 Speaker 2 

Well, this is a great spot. I think it's time to move on to the shinkansens speed round. 

29:59 Speaker 2 

If you are starting or growing your business, I have a free mini E book for you over at the small business Japan website. There's a ton of great advice and tips for some of the various successful entrepreneurs I have interviewed on the show, and each tip also has a link to that podcast as well. Check out 18 small business startup. 

30:19 Speaker 2 

Tips from some of today's top Japan Preneurs and you can also sign up for our newsletter that features even more business tips and news to help you start and grow your small but mighty business. Now back to the show. 

30:35 Speaker 2 

OK, Simon, where were you born? 

30:38 Speaker 1 

Liverpool in the UK. 

30:43 Speaker 2 

I used to live in Liverpool, Syracuse. 

30:45 Speaker 1 

So there you go. 

30:48 Speaker 1 

Where do you currently reside? Izuka city in kyushu. 

30:54 Speaker 2 

How old are you now? 

30:56 Speaker 1 

53 Young 53 I hope. 

31:00 Speaker 2 

What do you do for stress relief? 

31:03 Speaker 1 

Uh, I take a a morning walk my my my house. My parents in law house is 100 meters from the rice field, so I take a rice field work every morning an I take kyushu Rd trips with my wife a couple of times a month which we really love. We always, you know, find great places to go and I did my. 

31:24 Speaker 1 

First session of Taiko drumming last week, which I feel is going to be great stress relief. A lot of fun as well. 

31:33 Speaker 2 

Well, what's a? 

31:34 Speaker 2 

Japanese food or drink that you're sort of hooked on right now. 

31:38 Speaker 1 

Yeah, this, I guess this isn't very original, but I I love sushi and sashimi and I don't eat meat. Actually, I'm a pescatarian. 

31:48 Speaker 1 

So I love the. 

31:49 Speaker 1 

Sushi and I love the sashimi, um. 

31:52 Speaker 1 

I I really got into green tea since I came to Japan. I get my wife is into it and there's a lot of green tea here in Kyushu. I love the suites you have with the green tea and and I, I guess I love my mother-in-law's slow food cooking a lot of it from my little little garden she has here, yeah? 

32:13 Speaker 1 

That's quite a lot is not. 

32:14 Speaker 2 

Nice, that's OK. 

32:19 Speaker 2 

Where was the last place that you vacationed and for how long? 

32:23 Speaker 1 

Um, last place I vacationed was Bali, Indonesia to go and see my old buddies and um yeah spend time with them. I knew I was about a week. 

32:35 Speaker 2 

About a week OK yeah. 

32:38 Speaker 1 

'cause normally you know if I have a chance, I'll go to the UK at at least once a year to see my parents. 

32:45 Speaker 1 

Takes up our vacation time, right? 

32:48 Speaker 2 

What book would you recommend for small business Japan listeners? 

32:54 Speaker 2 

I read. 

32:57 Speaker 1 

Audio book it may be that audio book dates book called atomic habits. 

33:04 Speaker 1 

The author's name escapes me. 

33:07 Speaker 1 

And there's lots of books of this genre, and as the name suggests, it's it's about how to improve your your habits, which which sounds a bit kind of boring and Nanish. But basically, if if you have better habits, you can move yourself in the direction of the person you want to be. 

33:29 Speaker 1 

In the best way in the most efficient way, and there was nothing you know, really amazing about the book, but it just reminded Maine and I picked up a lot of things that I I read it maybe like a year or more ago and I still do a lot of the things and it really helps to say, move me in the right direction in a in a more efficient way. I do recommend it. 

33:51 Speaker 1 

Yeah I got focal or similar so. 

33:53 Speaker 2 

Yeah, I like it was a while ago. Yeah, a year or so ago when I when I read that and I exact same feeling it was it wasn't brand new, but it's very reinforced, reinforcing like the the idea of basically the compound effect of, you know, if you do something negatively you you'll just keep doing that. 

34:14 Speaker 2 

But if you make small little incremental changes that you know that builds, and that's how you actually change. 

34:20 Speaker 1 

Yeah, five 5 minutes a day is, you know is is much much better than 00 minutes a day. 

34:28 Speaker 2 

What advice would you give for someone who's wanting to start their own small business? 

34:35 Speaker 1 

So, uh, a lot of your guests I notice say I guess what? What I would say would just do it. Yeah, just just do it. I you know they they they say that the regrets one of the big regrets of the dying is not the mistakes they made, it was the things they didn't do with the chances they didn't take. 

34:55 Speaker 1 

So I would say do it but. 

34:59 Speaker 1 

But we have big but here before you do it. 

35:03 Speaker 1 

And you know, if you do a great business plan and a great financial plan of so many page, that's good for you. But at least. 

35:12 Speaker 1 

Get a piece of paper out and say what is every cost going to be for the first 2 years. Every cost you know buying a printer. My website costs. If I'm going to get brochures made. If I've got rent. If I got electricity. 

35:27 Speaker 1 

And then on top of all those costs, add your own and your family's living costs again, everything your food, your rent, your vacation, your travel for two years, 'cause you may not take any income. 

35:44 Speaker 1 

Fine, let's say two years, so you know, yes, just do it, but you know you need to have some some money in the bank before you do. Unless of course you're doing it as a as a side gig, a side hustle where you're still working, which is which may work for some people, but if you're going to, you know, have it as your full time job. 

36:04 Speaker 1 

Yeah, make sure you're not doing it with an almost empty bank account. 

36:08 Speaker 2 

Right, yeah, that's great. That's good advice. 

36:12 Speaker 2 

What's something that you're excited about right now? 

36:16 Speaker 1 

Um, Yes. Surviving my business surviving Corona. 

36:22 Speaker 2 

Little bit of a difficult time sometimes to motivate ourselves into excitement, but. 

36:28 Speaker 1 

Yeah, in some ways yes, but I I really feel it's a kind of challenge. You know everything everything I've learned stumbling through this world for 50 years and everything I've learned in business, it's like now is the time. Let's test me. Let's see if I can if I can beat this or not. So I'm excited about that. We've, um. 

36:49 Speaker 1 

She said we've got a couple of ideas which we wouldn't have thought of before, but when I pivoting towards that Ann and something else that excites me, I'm thinking of of starting a podcast. OK, nice, nice I I haven't. I've never said so now I've said this on your podcast. 

37:09 Speaker 2 

Is out there in the world. 

37:10 Speaker 1 

It's out there so this will motivate me to do. I've been thinking about it for awhile. I've researched about it an I think it'll be fun and hopefully it will help my business as well, yeah? 

37:23 Speaker 2 

Do you do you wanna share, uh, what the topic is or you is it? Is it related to around your business? 

37:30 Speaker 1 

Yeah, sure, it's um. 

37:31 Speaker 1 

I my. 

37:34 Speaker 1 

My idea for a title is traveling, Japan's most amazing island. 

37:38 Speaker 1 

Oh OK, so. 

37:41 Speaker 1 

Yeah, it's just an I I don't have long for it, so it's not gonna be long episodes. I'm definitely looking at less than half an hour and it's just each episode about sending in Kyushu. You know? I sat down and jotted OK, will I have enough? 

37:54 Speaker 1 


37:57 Speaker 1 

And I I got to 50 topics I could speak about until I stop. Now when I've done 50, I'll look at it again. You know, I live an individual temple or a city or a food, or a particular onsen, or about so many different topics. Such a great eye on this, and people don't know about it. 

38:17 Speaker 2 

Right, right? So um. 

38:20 Speaker 2 

Well, that's great. I mean, I, I think the only problem I see is with keeping it to that 30 minute mark. 'cause I too have gone in with the idea. Like OK, it's gonna be a short 10 minute one today. Just keep keep to the point an yeah it's it's difficult to edit yourself sometimes. 

38:36 Speaker 1 

So I'm I'm. I'm looking forward to. 

38:38 Speaker 1 

So seeing how it goes actually. 

38:40 Speaker 2 

Oh that's great. Yeah well keep me posted. 

38:43 Speaker 1 


38:45 Speaker 2 

So what is next for you? You mentioned a few. A few things. You have some ideas kicking around that you know this sort of crazy virus has changed the world a bit? Has it changed your business model? 

39:02 Speaker 1 

Yeah, so um, you know, as I said originally, we were 100% inbound foreigners from overseas coming to visit kyushu. But say foreigners are visiting Kyushu now, and hopefully they will soon, but they may not, so we decided to focus on on domestic travel 'cause. 

39:24 Speaker 1 

Not not only will foreigners not want or not want to not be able to come to Japan, I think Japanese won't feel comfortable going overseas for a long time. You know? Yeah, with with the viruses in the airport, so I think the Japanese will still travel domestically. 

39:44 Speaker 1 

OK, and you know I can't compete for the The Standard Japanese travel market with people like JT being the big travel agents. There's no point me doing that, but what maybe the competitive advantage I have is I'm a native speaker. My wife is super fluent in English, so we have the idea of. 

40:07 Speaker 1 

Running and, um, an English language boot camp. OK, so let's say this is an overnight trip, staying in some nice role location with lots of activities in English, and I think Japanese. 

40:22 Speaker 1 

They still want to spend money on their kids. They still want their kids to learn English, but they want to learn their kids, learn English in a fun way. 

40:30 Speaker 1 

It gets down to the countryside and I I have to thank my wife for being smart enough about this. When we started the company, you have to write as you will know this Josh, what the business of your company is. She didn't just write travel. She thought in the future we might have to pivot. So she wrote a few things and one of the things she wrote. 

40:51 Speaker 1 

With English teaching nice so it it all works nice an we've we've made some contact locali so we're we're starting to do that now. It's going to be a bit difficult for me on the marketing side. You know, I've never marketed to Japanese people, right? 

41:12 Speaker 1 

But is it something new to learn? You know, line marketing and ICO in Japanese, you know? Here I come. 

41:19 Speaker 2 

There you go, yeah. 

41:20 Speaker 2 

Yeah, yeah, it's fun to, you know, delve into a new sort of offshoot of the business. 

41:26 Speaker 1 

Sure, yeah. And then, if it works out and even when foreign stocks. 

41:33 Speaker 1 

Coming back, it would still be an additional revenue stream going forward. 

41:39 Speaker 2 

Do you find there is there any market for? 

41:46 Speaker 2 

Foreigners living in Japan planning their trips? Or are they more of like a DIY? 

41:52 Speaker 2 

Kind of thing. 

41:54 Speaker 1 

Yes to both. I mean most will yeah why like like I did when I lived in Japan. But as I mentioned, Elizabeth was kindly sent to some clients. There are guys who have lived in Tokyo for awhile and. 

42:07 Speaker 1 

Yeah, once someone local on the ground I guess to maximize. 

42:12 Speaker 1 

The the enjoyment of the trip to Kyushu anyone can DIY it, but you can't DIY it as good as a kind of knowledgeable people on the ground, right? 

42:25 Speaker 1 

We will try and focus more on that, but to yes to your question. Most people will die like most foreigners actually will DIY it now mine is in custom trip planning is not for everyone right now. I've traveled around the world and I'm sure you have Josh. We probably DIY did ourselves. 

42:46 Speaker 1 

Right, but backpacking we call it. Yeah, so you know, custom trip planning isn't for everyone. It's short for hire and client, but least for some people. And some of them. Yeah, maybe from Tokyo Osaka so that that's 11 opportunity we have. 

43:01 Speaker 2 

Yeah, yeah yeah, I know that you know. Like you said, competing against JTB and. 

43:07 Speaker 2 

And you know HIS some of those like monopolies that you know they're more pushing. 

43:15 Speaker 2 

The large tour buses and the group tours. I'm wondering, have you thought about or is there a market for? 

43:23 Speaker 2 

Younger Japanese people or any. 

43:26 Speaker 2 

Age any demographic of of Japanese people wanting a little bit more of A. 

43:36 Speaker 2 

Experiential type of trip. 

43:40 Speaker 1 

Yeah, I guess there is, but I also not not. I guess I know they're already boutique Japanese agents. OK, so yeah I would. I would of course I I would love to get any market I can but the thing with the English bootcamp. It's the kind of competitive competitive advantage that we have, right, right? Some of the. 

44:01 Speaker 1 

Most Japanese travel agents wouldn't have, you know, I have a background in English teaching as well, and we know this area well, so that's I think that's the first thing on our list, because that's something that made your advantages. Yeah, title advantages, exactly. 

44:18 Speaker 2 

Is there something you feel, um? 

44:22 Speaker 2 

Is coming for your industry? Are there any changes or disruptions coming beyond the the obvious shutdown that you're sort of in? 

44:36 Speaker 1 

Yeah, it's hard to get beyond the the obvious shutdown. 

44:41 Speaker 1 

Um, you know, OK, virus aside, when things get back to normal again. One of the reasons we had this idea for for kyushu journeys is that people for sure are looking for more experiences. They're looking for. 

44:58 Speaker 1 

Um, a bit of a higher quality of travel rather than the package tour which is is is something that we offer. 

45:08 Speaker 1 

You know, and more specialist thing. So whether it's food, tours or pottery tours or this kind of specific idea, yeah, I think as as more and more people are. I've been thinking about for ages. I think will continue. 

45:26 Speaker 1 

Yeah, the Olympics is coming to Japan. 

45:30 Speaker 1 

OK, I will be coming to Japan 2020 Olympics next year, so that might bring a good boost to us, right? And I'm hoping there will be a lot of pent up demand. You know, people who wanted you know, this bloody virus hit our bigger season. Our cherry blossom season, so there was a lot of people who wanted to come who couldn't come. 

45:51 Speaker 1 

Hopefully there's a lot of pent up demand. 

45:54 Speaker 1 

People who are going to say OK, I couldn't go last year. I will come this year, you know. Yeah, a lot of people are suffering with this virus, but a lot of people as well will have saved some money there. They haven't been able to go to Starbucks every day they've been in lockdown. They haven't been able to go and eat out. They haven't been able to have weekends away, so some people will have money saved up. 

46:16 Speaker 1 

Who may want to spend it on on a Japan trip so you know it's it's? It's not all doom and gloom there. It could boom after you know the governments have pumped in a lot of money to the economy. They things could boom after this. 

46:30 Speaker 2 

Yeah, there's some talk about incentives for. 

46:34 Speaker 2 

Partially covering some some trips that you know. 

46:39 Speaker 2 

Foreigners would be, you know, enticing them to come back to Japan type of things. 

46:43 Speaker 1 

So yeah, we're closely monitoring this, yeah? 

46:48 Speaker 2 

You you mentioned one thing about the The Cherry Blossoms and the seasons. Have you found like you have to slightly alter your time scale for people? 

47:19 Speaker 1 

Got the data going back like more than a century. 

47:23 Speaker 1 

Now when the dates how many years? It's been early, how many years it be late and the the time it's supposed to Bloom is the last in in Kyushu and then in North Kyushu actually in the last few days. 

47:39 Speaker 1 

Of March into the first few days of April is what it's bloomed the last three years so. 

47:47 Speaker 1 

So far so good we autumn leaves. 

47:51 Speaker 2 

Yeah, the coil is. 

47:53 Speaker 1 

Are getting later than not getting as much sometimes, but again with my my wife runner autumn. Actually at all last year over last year. 

48:03 Speaker 1 

And she managed to time it right, but you know, you do have to keep your air on the ground and you know we were calling all the hotel owners and the tourist local tourists very localized. 

48:16 Speaker 2 

Yeah, it's it sounds. It seems like it would be something difficult to actually promote an. You know if if, uh, if a guest was. 

48:24 Speaker 2 

Expecting to see the bright red leaves and it's like, well, it's yellow, sorry, you know it's not your fault, of course, but you know it's a difficult thing to plan. 

48:34 Speaker 1 

It it's something you have to manage expectations from the very start. Anyone who writes to us and mentions you know when should I come for cherry blossom or when should I come for autumn leaves? We always say. 

48:45 Speaker 1 

This is the time and then I have a fixed sentence, but we cannot guarantee Mother Nature, right? You have to keep mentioning that throughout the period, but so far we're pretty lucky. But you know, sometimes we won't be. And then we we just hope we have a reasonable client who understands that, you know. 

49:05 Speaker 1 

Thought about hands. 

49:06 Speaker 2 

Now, is there something the Japan from our community should know about that maybe I didn't cover? 

49:15 Speaker 1 


49:17 Speaker 1 

I'm I'm always this is a big passion project for me and my wife, so I'm always interested to connect with anyone who has any interest or knowledge or something they want to promote about Kyushu. You know, kyushu is a big big thing for us, so anyone feel I'm always happy to meet us there. I reached out to Elizabeth I. 

49:40 Speaker 1 

Contacted Mac as well, you know. 

49:44 Speaker 1 

Yeah he he's written a guest post on my website actually, so I'm always good to meet people and cooperate. And you know whether it's talking about kyushu or online marketing or travel or business or cooperation or life or anything. Just you know, anyone can feel free just to reach out and say Hi and see what see what comes of it. 

50:05 Speaker 2 

And where should they reach out to get in touch with you? 

50:09 Speaker 1 

So kyushu is KYUSHU, people don't know, so my website Iskyushujourneys.com, That's one word, kyushu journeys.com. my Facebook is kyushu journeys. 

50:25 Speaker 1 

One word, my Instagram is, you guessed it. 

50:30 Speaker 1 

These one word. 

50:32 Speaker 2 

Well, you've got all of the the domains down and everything. It's it's good that you were able to sync it all up. Make it simple for everyone so. 

50:41 Speaker 2 

OK, well Simon, thank you for being a guest today and I think. 

50:47 Speaker 2 

Just provided a lot of value for a lot of people. 

50:50 Speaker 1 

OK, I thank you for inviting me and I really appreciate the opportunity you gave me. 


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