executive impact

Imperial Hotel Tokyo

By Chris Betros

The recession has hit many hotels in Japan, but some have managed to weather the crisis by offering value-added services and thanks to a long, rich tradition. One of those is the venerable Imperial Hotel, which this year marks its 120th anniversary. It has played host to royalty, heads of state, celebrities and business leaders for much of its history.

The Imperial has 931 rooms, including 56 suites, 30 banquet rooms, 13 restaurants, three bars, a fitness center with rooftop pool and sauna baths, as well as the largest hotel executive service center in Japan.

Overseeing the hotel’s operations is Hideya Sadayasu, the 49-year-old affable Executive Director and General Manager. After graduating in economics from Gakushuin University in Tokyo in 1984, Sadayasu joined the Imperial Hotel, Ltd. Fluent in English, he became general manager in April 2009.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Sadayasu at the hotel to hear more.

Did you always want to be a hotelier?

Well, my father worked for an airline company, so I thought I might go into the travel industry, but I didn’t really think I would become a hotelier. But after I graduated and I decided on the hotel industry, the only one I considered was the Imperial Hotel.

Do you remember your very first hotel job?

I was a bellboy on my first day and I really enjoyed it. I did that for three months. That was followed by three months each in housekeeping, restaurants, kitchen, and a stint at the Kamikochi Imperial (in the Japan Alps).

When I was assigned to housekeeping, I did an overnight shift and I was asked to take an English newspaper to the Imperial Suite. I was very curious to see who was staying there at that time. It turned out to be Robert Redford. I knew then that I had made the right decision to join this hotel.

What is your management philosophy?

Simply to master the very basics of a five star international hotel – to elegantly, correctly and efficiently greet and receive all possible kinds of guests, deftly and discreetly meeting their varying, diverse needs and requirements.

How is the Imperial coping with the recession?

We have been hit by the recession like everyone else in the industry, especially since half our guests are from overseas locations like the U.S. and Europe. Many of them were in the financial sector, so we saw a drop. Fortunately, however, we have been supported by the domestic market, which has remained strong. Our occupancy rate for February and March of this year was 80-90%; it was an average of around 70% during the previous year.

One thing helping us is our Imperial Club membership system, which consists of around 75,000 domestic and 25,000 international members. For them, we have added some special privileges to the usual package, such as special rates, depending on the season.

What are some of your strengths?

This year is our 120th anniversary, so that is a long history and tradition. Our hotel was the first national guesthouse used by the government and even though it is a Western-style hotel, you can feel a real Japanese touch, which has great appeal for both domestic and foreign guests, I think.

Then, we have 931 guest rooms, almost 30 banquet rooms and more than 10 restaurants and bars, so guests have many options to choose from.

What is the percentage of foreign guests?

On weekdays, foreign guests account for 50%. On weekends, we tend to get more Japanese guests. For the past 12 months, we saw the biggest increase come from China which is an important market for us.

How do you advertise?

We do some advertising in select magazines. We are also a member of Leading Hotels of the World, and they promote us overseas. From now on, though, we need to be more creative. Since the average age of our members is over 50, the issue for the future is how to attract the next generation of club members. That means we have to conduct Internet and mobile phone campaigns and we are working on that point.

Are online reservations increasing?

Yes. Before, it was 3-4% of total. Now, it is almost 10%.

How is the banquet business?

It is still tough. We’ve seen a drop of about 15%. The majority of clients are Japanese corporations and they have been holding fewer functions.

The MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) business could be better. Our size means we can host big events, receptions and conventions. I think Japan has to be promoted more by the government as a destination for conferences. Tokyo is still erroneously considered to be too expensive. Hotel rates compare favorably to London, New York and Paris, for example.

What about weddings?

The wedding business dropped about 10% last year, but it is recovering. Overall, we have about 1,000 weddings each year. On Saturdays and Sundays, we handle the maximum of 25 weddings. The average age of people getting married at the Imperial is around 30 years old, which is a bit higher than other hotels. They will be the next generation of our club members and a very important market segment.

Did you hire any graduates this year?

Yes, 50-60. That was down from last year when we hired 100. I’m very proud of our staff retention rate. While there is a mobile labor market among other hotels, the Imperial has a very low turnover. Partly, I think it is because of our long history, brand image and tradition. But we also have a job rotation system and young staff have a chance to be promoted.

What is a typical day for you?

I come in around 7:45 a.m. First, I stop by the duty manager’s desk for a report on overnight operations. Then I visit the restaurants and talk to staff, and greet guests. I try to spend an hour doing that. Throughout the day, I like to be in the lobby area when our club members and VIPs are checking in or out. In the evenings, I look in on banquets.

How do you like to relax?

I go to the gym, or play golf with clients maybe once a month. I like going for a drive, too.

For more information, visit www.imperialhotel.co.jp/

© Japan Today

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I have great memories staying at the Imperial..

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That hotel has a wonderful history. I remember seeing photos of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio there during their honeymoon, and I think Charlie Chaplin was mobbed by fans when he stayed there, too. In those days, I believe there was a balcony from where the celebrities could wave to fans.

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I was a long-time traveler to Japan over the years as well as living there but unlike hotel management structures outside Japan, future managers and directors as Mr. Sadayasu is in Japan typically start out as bell-boys as this article indicated and work up the management chain. I've known a couple of directors at the Imperial who were bellmen when I first stayed there in the late 40's and early 50's. So if you meet bellmen at a Japanese hotel, be nice to them. They'll remember you well and will treat you accordingly when they become the big shots.

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The Imperial, in contrast with all the usual international chains, is refreshingly Japanese - a genuine Tokyo landmark anyone can experience.

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