The APA way - Always Pleasant Amenities

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Fumiko Motoya is certainly an easy person to recognize. As president of APA Hotel Co Ltd, Japan’s largest business hotel chain, her cheerful face adorns billboards, in which says “私が社長です” (I am a company president), she appears on TV, in magazines and newspapers and her face is on the company’s brands of water, curry and other products. She is also famous for her collection of colorful hats which now number about 240.

Fumiko Motoya, President of APA Hotel Co Ltd
Photo by Eric Seigers

As we enter Motoya’s office, she and her husband Toshio, APA’s CEO, greet us at a large boardroom table covered with full-page ads for APA, books about the company and, of course, all the APA products.

The group currently has 415 hotels for a total of 13,253 rooms. Of those, 62 are in Tokyo’s 23 wards and a new one is about to open in Ochanomizu. The company’s success rests heavily on its 11,808,804 card members (as of Sept 30), the fact that all its hotels are within three minutes’ walk of a train or subway station and what the brand’s initials stand for — “Always Pleasant Amenities,” said Motoya. The three letters are the middle three letters of the word “Japan,” making it easy to remember, she adds.

This year has been a big year for APA in terms of overseas expansion. “We currently have 40 hotels in total across the U.S. and Canada; our first grand opening in that area was the APA Hotel Woodbridge in New Jersey on June 20, and we acquired the hotel chain Coast Hotel,” Motoya said. “We are in our second year of the expansion plan Summit 5-II that we announced in April 2015, and we have successfully opened the APA Hotel Hiroshima Eki Mae Ohashi, the largest hotel in the Chubu Shikoku area with 727 rooms. We also worked to expand our business in areas outside of Tokyo, more specifically the central cities of the regional areas.”

The next big project is a Yokohama which will have 2,400 rooms, making it Japan’s largest hotel.

“Yokohama is a great location for tourists because of the beautiful cityscape and its accessibility to Tokyo,” said Motoya. “With international events such as the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics coming up, we strongly hope that a large number of tourists from around the world will come to Yokohama. We will cooperate with the city’s Kitanaka Street North District Redevelopment Promotion Plan by recovering the walls of the historical Bankokubashi Building, formerly located in the same area and now deconstructed, on the lower floors, and taking into careful consideration the design harmony with neighboring buildings. As an urban resort, which will be the new hotel’s theme, we plan on installing a large common bathtub, an outside pool and poolside restaurants. Its location near the station meets the needs of the APA hotel users; currently, there are over 11.8 million APA Hotel users and most are business persons. In addition, we think that we will be able to attract many foreign visitors as we are number one among all the business hotels in the nation, with the largest number of deals with foreign online travel agents.”

As its marketing strategy, the company has installed 103 signboards on the platforms and concourses of eight Tokyo Metro lines since December 2015. From December this year, it will put up 100 more signboards along the eight Tokyo Metro lines as well as four Toei Subway lines. “We are aiming for further brand recognition by installing a total of 496 signboards across the country, including ones in Niigata’s JR Joetsumyoko Station, and 284 signboards in 86 stations of Osaka City Subway,” said Motoya.

About 75% of APA’s guests are Japanese, but the group is gradually raising its profile among foreign visitors. “Our name has good positioning on places like Expedia, Agoda and booking.com. I think we have a lot to offer foreign guests,” Motoya said. “For example, we have free Wi-Fi and BBC broadcasts in hotel rooms. We have money exchange machines in some hotels.”

APA is further making efforts to be an eco-friendly brand. Guest rooms have LED lighting, while showers have less water pressure, meaning they conserve on water.

Then, of course, there are all the APA products. “We have sold over 1,700,000 dishes of the popular APA curry ever since its release,” Motoya said. “We based our curry on Kanazawa’s beef curry, and we received the 2016 Monde Selection Silver Quality Award. Also, our Natural Mineral Water from Fuji Streams has been recognized for its quality taste and received the 2016 Monde Selection Gold Quality Award. We distributed 10 million bottles to customers staying consecutive nights, and we are giving one bottle each to customers as part of our APA Eco Make project, where we aim to preserve water and prevent CO2 emissions through no cleaning service. For a new product, we have collaborated with Oyatsu Company, and distributed the Baby Star Ramen Kaki no Tane Mixto 1,000,000 customers. We received a lot of positive comments, especially about the packaging with a picture of my face. Others include APA Coffee, supervised by Daikanyama’s famous mobile coffee shop Motoya Express, APA Handkerchiefs sold at the front desk of some hotels, and our Original 3D Mesh Pillow (Air Relax) sold online — all of them widely popular among customers and very important for me.”

Motoya has become almost as famous for her hat collection as for being a “shacho.”

“When I wear my hats, people recognize me and I often get asked to pose for photos. I’ve heard that photos taken with me wearing a hat are supposed to bring good luck. When I don’t wear a hat on the subway or go to the supermarket, nobody recognizes me. I’ve got so many that I keep most of them in a museum that used to be an old Panasonic building but is now the Apa Hotel & Resort Jyoetsu Myoko.”

As the Olympics approach, there is concern that Japan does not have enough hotel rooms. Furthermore, hotels are facing a challenge from Airbnb’s entry into the Japanese market. But Motoya is not worried. “We think that C2C homestay services such as Airbnb will be a big help in solving the shortage of hotels with the vast increase in inbound visitors. However, there are concerns regarding subletting and unauthorized or illegal provision of services, so we strongly believe that the hotel industry is the best way for foreign visitors to experience the Japanese ‘omotenashi’ spirit,” Motoya said. “Also, homestay services are not widely common among business persons, and are only used by a number of inbound visitors. We have more than 11 million club members, so I don’t think Airbnb will affect us.”

Every time a new APA hotel opens, Motoya and her husband spend a night there, experiencing the service as a guest would. The APA group also believes in empowering women and its hotels have many women GMs. “I think women speak better English than men and are better at hospitality,” Motoya says.

There are certainly no dull days for Motoya, whose motto is “Make your work pleasure, and your work your pleasure.”

“I am a company manager, but I am also a responsible wife. I get up at around 6 a.m. and make breakfast for my husband, and send him off. I have to clean, do the laundry, and other house chores and so my days are very busy. Then, from 9 a.m. to around 6 p.m., I supervise and monitor the model houses, hotels and restaurant tenants for our hotel business, as well as apartment projects. Then there are events such as parties, opening ceremonies and conferences almost everyday. I am a visiting instructor at Tokyo International University, and I give lectures and special talk sessions. Due to my tight schedule, I haven’t been able to attend as many events as I’d like to. In the future, I would actually like to establish a university.”

And if one day, a movie is made about her life, what does she think the title should be? “I Am a Company President,” she says. What else?

For more information on the APA Group, visit www.apa.co.jp

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APA have an interesting business model. At many of their hotels, you check-in at the front desk, but then you have to go to a vending machine to pay for your room, either cash or with some difficulty a credit card, obtain a receipt, and then get your key, from the front desk. As one of their 11,808,804 card members, always found it odd that the front desk staff don't like to handle money!

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My understanding is that it's mainly a theft-prevention measure (internal and external).

APA is doing well, but as others point out, they have some decidedly odd--if not downright odious--quirks. And, at least a couple of years ago, the English-language materials in their rooms (hotel guide, etc.) were some of the poorest translations I've ever seen. Hopefully they'll fix that before the Olympics, if they haven't already.

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