This year, we celebrate our 15th anniversary of partnership between CWT and JTB in Japan. To gain a little insight into the history and evolution of our business, we interviewed Guy Mackee, industry veteran and JTB-CWT’s Advisor to their CEO. Here is what he had to say about the amazing journey he has shared with the team in Japan.
Tell us a bit about your career and how you ended up in Japan.
I grew up in the UK and took my first trip to Japan in 1971, where by chance on a train, I met my future wife. In 1973 I jumped at the opportunity to work for a subsidiary of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines based in Japan, and that was when I proposed to my wife and settled down here.
In 1978, a company called Wagons-Lits Tourisme was seeking someone to manage their Japan leisure business in Tokyo, and I took up the job. I eventually became General Manager of their International Division, before serving as General Manager of CWT when the joint venture was established in 2001.
Ultimately however, it began with a chance meeting on a train.
What were some of the key reasons CWT and JTB decided to establish a joint venture?
CWT bought Dodwell Travel in 1996 to establish a presence in Japan’s emerging Travel Management sector. Almost immediately we realized that our small size (13 full-time employees) would not allow us to develop a leading position in Japan’s very insular and protected travel market, or build the kind of influence we wanted locally.
Quickly we started looking at opportunities to create an alliance with one of the top Japanese agencies that really controlled most of the market, and one of these was JTB.
At the same time, JTB was looking for a global partner who would help bring western practices in business travel to Japan.
In 1998, we started negotiations and the agreement to create a joint venture was finalized in December 2000.
Our partnership became official in January 2001 and JTB-CWT Business Travel Solutions was established.
In your time as EVP, and later as advisor to the CEO, what has changed – and what has stayed the same in JTB-CWT?
Together with JTB, we have turned that initial team of 13 into the market leader in Japan with 550 full-time employees and close to US$1billion in annual sales.
Building a team that is agile and adaptable enough to turn market changes into opportunities and advantages has been crucial, because needs and expectations of our clients have changed so much over the years. Where it made sense, we also acquired numerous agencies to continually expand on our capabilities and deliver additional value to travellers.
Where I would say we have remained constant is in our strong service culture and the organization’s commitment to our employees. These are traits for which Japan is renowned, and are the foundation of our success, as well as our future growth.
What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the Japanese corporate travel market over the last 15 years?
The introduction of Net Fares, fee-based pricing and transparency was a major driver of change across the industry. Companies are now also more focused on safety and security of their travellers than ever before, and want the ability to track and locate them 24/7 in case of emergencies.
Rapid advances in technology and widespread internet adoption has also played a large role in shaping the industry. Online booking tool usage for domestic air and rail in Japan represents up to 75% of our total transaction volume now because travelers appreciate the increased control and convenience. Last year, JTB-CWT partnered with WorldMate to create and introduce mobile apps for personal and corporate travel in Japan. We are now delivering value and control to travelers even while they are on the go, and will continue to shape our business model to fit their needs and expectations.
What do you see coming up for business travel in Japan in the next few years?
We will see new emerging technologies and tools continue to shape travel as a whole, and the increasing importance of mobile solutions will be a key factor in the immediate future, either as a disrupter or an enabler.
Additionally we will see major Japanese companies increasingly explore how and what value they can obtain from globalizing their travel programs; it has already started and is gathering momentum. I expect that in the next 2-3 years we will see significant developments in that key segment – which represents over 70% of the Japanese business travel market.
How would you describe JTB-CWT employees?
Committed, customer and service focused, ambitious, always ready to go the extra mile for the company and the client, never hesitant to make personal sacrifice for the business and our clients.
Each day I am inspired and humbled by the dedication of our employees.
When you visited Japan for the very first time, did you ever expect that you would eventually end up living and working here long-term? What would you say is the best thing about your job?
No, never imagined living in Japan at the time but… I did know I wanted to marry the young lady I first met in 1971, so I was drawn back here.
Now so many years later, I have no regrets whatsoever; Japan is my home and I relish every day I am here.
The satisfaction of being part of building a successful business with JTB and CWT is immense, and the pleasure of working with our employees in Japan and helping them develop individually and as a team is enormous. The pleasure of being able to deliver high levels of service and respond to client expectations is tremendously rewarding, which combined with the opportunity to be a small part of driving change as the travel management business evolves is extremely motivating.
But most of all, what leaves me in awe each and every day is the quality, commitment and unquestioning willingness of our employees to make that extra effort and sacrifice to exceed our client’s needs and expectations. It is something quite exceptional and I feel enormous pride to be part of this team.
“The founding of JTB-CWT Business Travel Solutions, 2000”.