executive impact

A place you'd rather be

By Chris Betros

Visitors to Japan often go to the usual spots like Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, etc, but there is a gem of a resort only one hour from Tokyo – the Hilton Odawara Resort & Spa. Occupying 25 hectares and surrounded by beautiful natural landscape, the resort has 172 rooms all offering a magnificent view of Sagami bay.

The resort was voted Japan’s leading spa resort in 2007 for the third year in a row by World Travel Awards, and it is easy to see why. The hotel’s leisure facilities include a spa, sauna, natural hot spring water pool, hot spring, tennis courts, bowling alleys, billiards, arcade games, a golf driving range, putting green, fitness center, as well as offering pottery lessons, yoga, aesthetic treatment. While adults are busy, there is a Kidz Club to keep the youngsters occupied.

Overseeing all operations is the affable Hidehiko Yamaguchi, who has been general manager since October 2003. Born in Gunma, Yamaguchi had dreams of going into the hotel industry. After school, he took the unusual step of going to university in Spain, at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. After graduating in 1984, he returned to Japan to begin his hotel career as a bellhop with the Tokyo Hilton in 1984. He later became sales manager and in 1996, was appointed to Hilton Nagoya.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Yamaguchi at the resort to hear more.

Have you always wanted to be in the hotel industry?

It was my dream since I was a young boy. My grandmother used to work for the Hilton as an executive secretary. I remember her bringing me an LP autographed by the Beatles who stayed there. For me at that age, a Hilton was like a palace where the world meets.

What is the biggest challenge for you here at the resort compared to other Hilton hotels?

Apart from the size of hotel, the nature of the resort is the biggest difference. Even the weather can have a huge impact on the resort business. In terms of marketing, the biggest challenge is achieving recognition of Odawara as a destination for inbound visitors to Japan. Everybody knows Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara, but not Odawara. Our sales strategy is to try and have visitors add a couple of days onto their Tokyo stay.

What is your occupancy rate?

The annual average occupancy rate is 75%. On weekends and vacation periods, we are usually full.

Are your guests mainly Japanese?

Yes, right now, about 98% are Japanese because of only one Hilton in Japan with natural hot spring baths (onsen). The average age of Japanese guests who stay here is a bit higher and they really care about details and attitude of hotel staff. They are very proactive to make “their” hotel better. By reading their guest comment cards, we can find trends that come in useful when we plan some capital expenditure.

What do you think is the resort’s biggest appeal?

There is something here for everyone. If you come as a family, we can provide wonderful experiences for the whole family to enjoy together. If you are a couple, you can have complete relaxation and enjoy the aesthetic and dining facilities. If you are sports-minded, you have tennis, bowling, swimming, etc, and there are golf courses nearby.

Is the resort popular for conferences and weddings?

Yes, conferences are more common mid-week because of the convenient distance. A lot of Tokyo-based international corporations come here. They find they can hold meetings free from distractions and the surroundings encourage their people to think out of the box. Busy executives from overseas headquarters join in the meetings directly from Narita airport via helicopter. We have sales staff based in Tokyo who handle the corporate business.

We have lots of weddings on weekends and the lucky days in Japanese culture. For weddings, we mainly focus on the local market.

Do you get many repeat customers?

Yes. In fact, I have never seen such a high rate of repeat customers at any other hotel where I have worked. We’ve had guests stay here more than 100 times in four years. For many people, it is like a second home.

Tell us about the spa and other relaxation facilities.

The spa concept is natural beauty to enhance power of your mind and spirit -- like a rebirth. We provide original aromatherapy facial and body treatments. In the Bade water spa, you can experience a variety of hydrotherapy pools with saunas and a 25-meter swimming pool. There are also indoor and outdoor natural hot spring baths.

By the way, our facilities are not just for guests, but also for day visitors, and in fact, we get a lot of people who come from Tokyo and surrounding areas just for the day.

What is your definition of a good hotelier?

In my opinion, a good hotelier places importance on customer satisfaction and offering high-quality services, as well as achieving the hotel’s financial target. I also believe a hotelier should be greeting guests as often as possible and that is something I love doing.

How many staff work here?

Currently, we have 190. Hilton is a good company to work for and we attract many applicants each year. Everyone has a chance to be promoted if she or he has a clear career objective and performance. The staff also have a chance to work at other Hilton hotels, as well.

What is a typical day for you?

I usually start around 8 a.m. I have a morning briefing with key operation staff. I do some office work for awhile. After that, I’ll usually visit the various restaurants and recreational facilities for quality checks. Whenever I can, I like to be in the lobby or restaurant greeting guests at any time of the day or evening.

What is your management style?

In general, I delegate responsibility and encourage our team members to have ownership of their job to ensure quality improvement and profit generation. I also encourage meeting attendants to be well prepared in order to deliver meaningful conclusions.

How do you get feedback from guests?

Feedback comes via direct contact in the hotel, guest comment cards (I respond to every single comment), and from Hilton’s online guest satisfaction system.

When you look back on your career, do you think your time in Spain has helped you?

Definitely. I went there because I wanted to do something different. I didn’t even speak Spanish. I was a typical shy Japanese guy. But I learned a lot about how to express myself. I have many good memories, but I better not tell you too much or you’ll think I had a wild time.

The Hilton Odawara Resort & Spa is located at 583-1 Nebukawa, Odawara City, Kanagawa, 250-0024. Tel: 0465-29-1000, fax: 0465-28-1233. It is a 15-minute shuttle bus ride from Odawara Station. There is also a regular 5-minute shuttle bus service from Nebukawa Station, two stops from Odawara. For further information, visit www.hilton.com/em>

© Japan Today

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Overpriced and in the middle of nowhere - stayed there last year for a night. We had an option of going there again in 2 weeks (night before Trailwalker) but have decided to stay in a Odawara business hotel - we want somewhere to sleep and eat and the Hilton restaurants are way too expensive and close early

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Sounds pretty lame.So many nice places a little farther out..

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I like Odawara as a town in and of itself. I don't know anything about the Hilton. If the Sunday Brunch is as good as in Shinjuku than that might be worth it but I find a business hotel to be in the heart of town with a good selection of restaurants for much better prices.

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anywhere but here

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My wife and I went there over the Easter weekend and we really had a good time. It is a magnificent resort. I enjoyed all the sporting activities while my wife did her spa thing. It's quite ideal for a weekend.

As far as I could tell, we were the only foreigners, so I can imagine it will be a tough sell to lure more non-Japanese there from Hakone, Kyoto and the usual places, as the GM says above. I'd actually recommend it to Tokyoites for a day trip.

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I didn't stay overnight there but I enjoyed their hot spring baths for a mere 1000 yen.

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"beautiful natural landscape"??? in Japan? hahahaha!!! and a Hilton Hotel...again, the same old Japanese snobbish nouveau rich behavior...

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