ANA Group Partners with Municipal Governments and Organizations to Promote ‘Workation’ TravelANA Akindo is working with local leaders in Akita and Kumamoto to incentivize long-term remote work and tourism in those regions.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of our lives, and that naturally includes the way and where we work. There are no longer clear answers to basic questions like: Why do we work?; Where do we work?; Should we go to the office every day?; How can we best balance work life and private life?
In Japan, employees are starting to look towards workation (work + vacation), or remote work to strike a proper balance. Smaller cities and rural areas which had previously suffered population decline, are now promoting themselves as a workation destinations, and possibly even as a long-term second home.
In this third installation of “A New Chapter of Flight 2” series, we spoke with Hiroshi Kodani, Keita Tsubura and Miho Kadoya of ANA Akindo, to find out what challenges they faced while working with local governments and organizations in Akita, a mountainous northern prefecture on the main island of Japan and Kumamoto, a city located in the center of Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu.
Q: Tell us about workation and remote-work promotions in Kumamoto and Akita.
Tsubura: The city of Kumamoto launched a promotion called “Remote Work Promotion City, Kumamoto” in 2021 to encourage visitors from big cities and elevate the city’s profile as a remote-work destination. With Kumamoto Castle at its center, there are a plenty of places for visitors to work, play and relax within a compact 2 km (1.24 miles) radius. It is a highly convenient and easy-to-navigate city.
Kodani: Throughout the pandemic, many municipal governments in Japan have been trying to encourage domestic visitors to workation in their city or town. Workation is supposed to be one means to increase the number of stakeholders (also called “connected minds” in Japan), through the set-up of a secondary home base in a small city or rural area, with the goal of revitalizing the local economy. Organizations are now offering specialized packages and activity tours to draw further interest.
In Akita, the prefectural government was offering a subsidy of 100,000 yen (approx. 820 dollars) to companies that send at least three employees to stay for over three nights for workation. We actually had three ANA Akindo employees workation here in Akita back in February to support the program.
Q: How is ANA Akindo involved in the promotions?
Tsubura: Through the “ANA Workation Kumamoto” website, we created coupons and packages to let visitors experience and enjoy what Kumamoto has to offer, including: co-working spaces, restaurants, hot spring spas, sightseeing spots, sake tasting and more. We wanted to make sure local businesses were involved and benefitted from the promotion. We also prepared a list of accommodations that were suitable for Workation purposes. The key message was that Kumamoto is a highly convenient and easy-to-navigate city, perfect for a short-term workation stay. Plus, it is a quick 40-minute bus ride away from the airport.
Kodani: Funded by a local DMO (Destination Management/Marketing Organization) called Akita Inu Tourism, ANA Akindo was asked to put together and sell workation packages, currently known as ANA Workation Akita.
Akita offers magnificent nature views, great food and fun sightseeing spots. Although it snows a lot in winter, the prefecture has four distinct seasons. It is also only an hour flight away from Tokyo and ANA operates five daily round-trip flights to Akita Airport and will soon offer three flights to Odate-Noshiro Airport in northern Akita.
Through special packages, visitors can participate in activities, such as local cooking classes, sightseeing and winery tours, or a visit to a historical theater, designated as one of the nation’s most important cultural properties.
Needless to say, we provide the information on local accommodations, as well as co-working spaces.
Q: What kind of reactions have you gotten from customers? Have the packages been well received?
Tsubura: We started selling the packages last November. Unfortunately, the sales suffered from the impact of COVID-19 and we had to revise the initial sales goal. In December, we hosted a monitoring tour for ANA Group employees and received constructive feedback. The participants said that Kumamoto City is perfect for the existing work style of many Japanese employees due to its abundant choices of activities in a compact city. Reservations are slowly increasing as Japan loosens its COVID-19 regulations and I believe we are getting closer to reaching the revised sales goal.
Kodani: I am satisfied with what we created through ANA Workation Akita, but reactions from customers have yet to be evaluated as our package period will begin mid-April.
Akita Inu Tourism is a non-profit DMO that promotes workation in Akita. The prefectural government of Akita seeks to expand air travel and airport businesses in the region. As a private company, the ANA Group can come in and connect the city with workation promotions and provide the means to access the region long-term. I believe that is our next step in this project.
Q: What challenges do the respective regions have in revitalizing the local economy?
Kodani: I have been living and working in Akita for the past three years. This is traditionally a rich region. It is the nation’s third biggest producer of rice and has not been affected by natural disasters much. People are generally happy, enjoying great food, nature and hot springs. At the same time, its population has been shrinking at an alarming pace. Because of its rich resources, I think people in Akita have a relaxed attitude toward this crisis. As a company that offers transportation to the region, I believe ANA has an important role to play in encouraging Akita residents to face the challenge and find solutions.
Kadoya: The challenge in Kumamoto is to expand stakeholders, “common minds”, just as many other regions are tackling. Workation is just a way to achieve the objective. Kumamoto City is accessible, offers the cleanest water and overall is a lovely place to live and work. It can be an excellent candidate for a second home, but not many are aware of its benefits yet. I hope the ANA Workation Kumamoto promotion helps Japanese residents learn more about the city.
Tsubura: To me, merging what the city wants to promote and what visitors and potential stakeholders need from the city has been challenging. We have to differentiate Kumamoto from other regions so that it stands out as a potential secondary home. At ANA Akindo, we believe their strongest asset is food. That’s definitely one of the main factors in what makes visitors want to go back to Kumamoto.
As previously mentioned, offering Kumamoto as a workation designation alone may not be enough to achieve the long-term objective. Visitors are looking for added value that inspires them to become stakeholders in the region, they want something to be a part of when they search for workation destinations.
Q: What has it been like to partner with local governments and organizations? What are their expectations of the ANA Group?
Kodani: We still have a lot to do to attract customers, but I believe they are happy with our contributions so far. The ANA Group has been recognized as one of the few partnering companies to receive a subsidy to encourage its employees to live and work in Akita. Currently, ANA cabin attendants are working at the prefectural office, city hall and other private businesses in Akita.
ANA has been operating flights in Akita for 60 years. I believe the local government hopes we can promote Akita both internally within the ANA Group and externally with the general public in Japan, and we are happy to do so.
Tsubura: I believe the local government wants us to bring in new visitors. They have often mentioned utilizing our customer base, such as ANA Mileage Club members and I do agree our members are a perfect target audience for them. It is our mission to ultimately connect the region with not just one-time workation visitors, but potential long-term stakeholders.
Kadoya: It is certainly the expectation that ANA can bring in visitors. I believe we need to put our heads together to figure out who can be the best match in the long term.
Q: What’s next for the project? Any plans to expand the promotion to overseas visitors?
Tsubura: Kumamoto City is a great bleisure travel (expanded business trips that include leisure activities) destination. In the next fiscal year, I would like us to refresh the ANA Workation Kumamoto site and packages with a focus on what visitors want and need from the experience so that we can continue to attract customers.
For overseas visitors, we need to set up the long-term infrastructure to be able to accept them. Which countries should we target? Have their needs and expectations changed due to the pandemic?
Kadoya: In the future, by utilizing what we’ve learned from this year, I would like us to expand our tactics to attract potential stakeholders to Kumamoto. I am thinking possibly company retreats or group workation once it is safe to do so again.
Kodani: I do not see the promotion of workation slowing down any time soon in Japan. In order to present Akita as a strong candidate for workation, we need to further differentiate Akita from other regions and be able to answer the question, “Why Akita?”
Needless to say, brushing up the existing tourism assets is important. Additionally, we would like to involve the prefectural government as we create sustainable plans that go beyond offering individual packages. We need to give potential stakeholders the necessary motivation to come to Akita, such as through SDG (Sustainable Development Goals)-related initiatives.
For overseas visitors, Akita is the only prefecture in the Tohoku (northeastern Japan) region not to have direct international flights. In the past, the prefectural government tried to invite an airline to fly between Akita and Taiwan, but that fell through. It could cost a lot of money for the local government to invite international flights and the risk is high. Instead, I would suggest they take advantage of ANA’s Akita-Haneda flights to connect to international flights. It offers great connectivity out of Tokyo.