The Japanese slang word for a last-minute cancellation, "dotakyan," is a portmanteau made up of "dotamba" and "kyanseru." When the death penalty involved decapitation by sword -- until replaced by hanging in the 1870s -- the condemned was executed by being made to kneel at a "dotamba," a sloped platform of packed dirt in front of a shallow pit into which the head dropped. Since a last-minute reprieve from execution was called "dotamba de nigeru" (to escape the "dotamba"), the term came to take on the meaning of an eleventh hour reprieve. "Dota-kyan" is its modern incarnation.
Shukan Gendai (Sept 10) has uncovered a new type of "dota-kyan," and it's been causing outrage in the inbound travel business. It seems that agencies bringing in visiting groups from mainland China -- those same groups whose "explosive buying" last year had Japanese retailers rushing to fill their inventories with loads of goods for free-spending Chinese shoppers -- are also in the practice of calling off reservations at hotels, restaurants, sightseeing buses, airlines and other tour components, often without even bothering to give any notification at all.
"We provide pick-up service to and from the hotel where groups are staying," relates an employee of Hato Bus, a major sightseeing operator. "Even though a Chinese group had requested this service, they weren't anywhere to be seen, and no one contacted us."
Japanese find this sort of behavior to be incomprehensible, and it is said to be seriously hurting the small and medium-size bus companies that specialize in visitors from overseas.
A bus company executive blames the middlemen who act on behalf of Chinese travel agencies.
"Dealing with them is nothing but trouble," he complains. "They'll tell us, 'We want to book a bus for our customers from China,' so we give them a price and they'll reserve a bus. But then at the last minute, they'll tell us, 'That's not what we said; your price is too high' or some other excuse, and cancel the reservation. The bus stays in the garage, which causes a serious loss.
"Maximum and minimum bus fees are subject to government approval, but they ask for prices way below the minimum. For example, they'll make the reservation for a sightseeing course that costs 100,000 yen, and then at the last minute try to haggle it down to 60,000 yen. If we don't agree, they'll cancel outright," he added.
There have even been cases where cancellations occurred while customers were in transport.
"While aboard a bus from Ikebukuro en route to Tokyo Disneyland, the Chinese tourists demanded to their tour escort and the bus driver to deviate," recalls the president of a medium-size bus firm. "A passenger said, 'We want to go shopping in Ginza, so please change the route.' Pandemonium broke out and when the tour escort refused his request, the passenger tried to bribe the bus driver with an offer of cash."
In the case of hotel cancellations made via the internet, establishments are seldom successful at collecting cancellation fees.
"All we can do is register their credit card number at the time they reserve," a hotel employee relates. "But in the case of foreigners, by the time of billing they'll have returned home and the only thing we can do is try to trace them and send a bill for the cancellation. If that could be done without hassles, we wouldn't mind so much, but most of the time we're left holding the bag."
Meanwhile in Kansai, another type of cancellation problem has surfaced.
"Many restaurants and geisha houses in Kyoto have only limited capacity, and as the meals they serve tend to be fixed courses, most of the ingredients are obtained and prepared beforehand," a Kyoto city employee tells the magazine. "So a cancellation means wasting the food, which causes considerable loss right there. The city office has received numerous complaints from restaurant operators about this problem."
A staff member of a major airlines tells the magazine that travel agency representatives frequently phone the carrier just before a flight's departure to say, "Sorry, we couldn't sign up enough people this time, so let us change to another date" or some other lame excuse.
"But as our airline requires remittance of full payment beforehand and changes for re-bookings or cancellations, we haven't been seriously hurt."
"There's been a flood of reports about how the 'explosive buying' by Chinese visitors has been something of a godsend to the Japan's economy, but that has been on the wane. With so many other headaches becoming commonplace, we can expect more Japanese companies and shops to just inform them outright, 'Don't come any more!'" the article concludes.© Japan Today