20th Anniversary: Heartfelt Hospitality Brings Guests Back

October 4, 2017
by RNN

As Rakuten marked its 20th anniversary in February 2017, RNN brings you a story from a hotel with a 10-year long history with Rakuten Travel, whose outstanding service has actually earned it the Rakuten Travel Award for 9 straight years. We spoke with the hotel’s owners about the evolution of their business, and how their management methods and values have changed through their relations with Rakuten Travel and its ITCs (Internet Travel Consultants), as well as their hopes for the future.

Cocorone, Ito Seaside Resort
Company name: Izu/Ito Kinmedai no Yado Cocorone
Established, joined Rakuten Travel: February 2007
Location: Ito, Shizuoka
Type of business: Resort inn
Employees: 11

Conveying the unique charms of Cocorone

In 2007, inspired by their experience as co-workers at a resort inn, Akio Kishimoto and his wife Yuki opened a new resort inn of their own named "Cocorone." Located in a natural setting near the ocean, Cocorone has just six guest rooms in total, allowing Akio and Yuki to maintain their personal approach even after 10 years in business. Despite its cozy scale, Cocorone ranked among Japan's 20 most popular onsen (hot spring) lodgings in 2016, and it has won the Rakuten Travel Award for nine years straight in recognition of its achievements and customer satisfaction.

 "Before we started our own business," Akio recalls, "I took courses at Rakuten Travel College. The tools that Rakuten Travel provides are invaluable, of course, but I found the overall business model very attractive too, from the large number of Rakuten members to the option of using points to purchase products and reserve accommodations. I decided then that I would definitely join Rakuten Travel as soon as my own business was established."
When Akio was 32, the Kishimotos took that leap and went into business for themselves.
"At first, I tried to attract guests in my own way, but that didn't work out at all. I was just starting to worry about what I should do when an ITC (Internet Travel Consultant)* from Rakuten reminded me that they were there to support us. 'Let us help you,' they said. 'It's what we're here for!' Based on their advice, I got to work on our page for the Rakuten Travel website as well as our e-mail marketing. I put everything I had into it, and I found that the harder I worked, the more bookings we received."
Among the various tools provided by Rakuten Travel, Akio says, the customized webpage option was particularly vital.
"The templates on other travel websites just let you add photographs and text, so that when customers compare different destinations, they only really look at price and location. Cocorone stands at the foot of a steep hill, and the rooms themselves aren't very large; raw data like price and location alone can't convey its appeal. Our customized page on Rakuten Travel, on the other hand, showcases our carefully prepared cuisine and our onsen baths drawn directly from the spring, as well as the way our staff strives to make guests feel at home. This has let us attract guests who felt an affinity to what makes Cocorone unique."

 Respecting the needs of each guest as an individual

Yuki is in charge of customer service at Cocorone. "Since we only have six guest rooms, we can meet and interact with every guest individually," she says. "We aim to provide every one of our valued guests with the best possible hospitality, even if that triples our workload."
Yuki reads and rereads the requests and reviews posted by guests in order to develop new accommodation plans and services. For instance, once she received feedback from a guest who had enjoyed her meal of simmered kinmedai (red bream) but was also tempted by the lightly boiled shabu-shabu–style kinmedai dish that a neighboring table had ordered. This inspired Yuki to craft a four-person meal plan combining the two dishes. This sort of attention to detail has earned Cocorone a growing cohort of repeat guests, some commenting on the review page that they are keen to support the hardworking married couple that runs the resort inn.
"At our morning staff meeting," Yuki explains, "we make sure that everyone knows important details about our guests, such as food preferences or plans for a surprise cake and celebration. We might also remind our staff that, for instance, a visiting family with a five-year-old child was last here when their child was just one. Keeping track of the details, right down to preparing tableware for children in advance, is key to customer interaction."

Joining with "competitors" in launching a study group

In 2008, Akio launched a study group for resort inn owners. "It was unthinkable in the past for rivals in the accommodation industry to share information," he says. "But I felt that, for my own business to attract more customers, we needed to study together with others in the same business. I discussed this with a Rakuten ITC, and they helped me to find other resort inn owners who shared my outlook. The result was a study group that has been running for eight years and counting. Meeting and talking with other owners has helped me maintain a high sense of motivation regarding my own business operations."
The study group currently meets once every two months, bringing together the owners of around 15 different hotels to raise the overall vitality of the Ito area.
Finally, we asked Akio and Yuki what Rakuten Travel means to them.
"Cocorone gives meaning to our lives and has brought us a great deal of joy. By helping us spread the word about our resort inn to more and more potential guests, Rakuten has been a bridge to our dreams."

*ITC: Rakuten Travel's ITCs (Internet Travel Consultants) work with hotels that join Rakuten Travel to help them use the service more effectively and attract more guests.

Reply-paid postcards brings people together

A handwritten note and a fun picture from a travel destination is an excellent way to make someone feel special. Guests at Cocorone can use a reply-paid postcard (ofuku hagaki)—mailable from inside the resort inn itself—to write about their stay to an important person in their life, who can then respond. The Kishimotos began this service as part of their desire to make Cocorone a place that brings people together. Many postcard recipients become interested in staying at the resort inn themselves, and if they bring the postcard when they do, Cocorone presents them with a special gift.

Lasting relationships with guests

Rather than simply parting ways with guests at the end of their stay, Cocorone strives to build deeper, long-term relationships. The Kishimotos have created a community called the Cocorone Club for exchanging ideas with guests in direct dialogue. Suggestions from guests have been used for everything from updating the resort inn's Japanese sake selection to deciding on a design for the tray on which wet hand towels are placed at meals. Other activities and events have emerged from the club, including beautification projects, group lunches, and even a running group formed by Cocorone guests whose members have competed in local marathons.

Special Thanks to:
Akio Kishimoto
Co-owner, Cocorone
Yuki Kishimoto
Co-owner, Cocorone

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