Finding Silver Linings in a COVID-Affected Tourism World

It’s difficult to draw many positives out of the COVID-19 situation, particularly for tourism businesses who have been impacted negatively by the virus and the travel restrictions which have come into place to stem its spread. But the team at Kiroro Resort, in Hokkaido, Japan, are looking for silver linings.

“Without trivializing the seriousness of COVID-19 or undermining the grief suffered by those who’ve lost loved ones or been personally affected,” says Kiroro Resort’s Vice President Martin Raich, “We are making it a focus to be grateful and to celebrate the few positives that have emerged over the past 12 months.”

From a business perspective, one such positive is the support which Kiroro Resort has received from the government to help see it through these tough times. “It’s been amazing to see business and government cooperate in a time of need. Local, prefectural and national government, local tax offices and social insurance bodies have all been so supportive and understanding of the predicament which the tourism industry faces and their assistance with funding and other support programs has been hugely valuable,” says Raich.

“For years, we have worked closely with the Akaigawa local government sharing a number of staff who work for Kiroro during the winter and on government-owned projects during the summer. When the pandemic arrived, they assisted us kindly with funding to make our facilities more COVID-safe and also provided vouchers for us to share with our guests to use in the local area. And the Hokkaido Government and Japan Government both built travel incentive programs to stimulate domestic travel.”

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The loyalty of Kiroro’s season pass holders has been another great thing for the resort to see. “We have over 1,700 season pass holders this year, which is only slightly down on previous seasons,” Raich explains. “We are truly grateful to all those Kiroro lovers who, despite potentially facing their own financial difficulties during COVID, have been willing to support us and invest in a season pass.”

The resort is rewarding those season pass holders by making a concerted effort to offer a skiing experience typical of a ‘normal season’ in Kiroro.

“By necessity, we have closed some lifts which would run if the resort were at full capacity. We feel a strong obligation to offer our customers a world-class chairlift network and access to all our best skiing areas, despite the financial strain of operation,” says Raich. “With less crowds and incredible snowfall this year, our pass holders are very happy!”

Kiroro Resort is also celebrating the silver linings of the situation on an individual employee level. The reality of the situation is such that all staff members have taken wage cuts and reduced hours, but the added spare time has actually been positive for many.

“My wife found out she was pregnant in June,” says Evan Johnson, Sales and Marketing Manager at Yu Kiroro. “Thankfully, with a little more spare time on my hands and less pressure to be in the office each and every day, I’ve been able to attend every single one of the scans and hospital check-ups in person. I wouldn’t have been able to do this had it been 12 months earlier.”

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Other staff have taken the chance to spend more time out on the mountain – skiing, snowboarding and reigniting the passions which brought them to Kiroro in the first place.

“In normal years, I’m so busy with work that I don’t get the chance to ski all that often,” explains Michael Chan, Food & Beverage Supervisor at Kiroro. “This year has been great for the chance to get out there as much as possible and really make the most of the emptier slopes and amazing snow. I remember now why I choose to live here!” 

And for some, the COVID situation has also served as an opportunity for personal development and to fast-track learning in the workplace.  

“Through all the challenges I’ve faced this past year, I have actually become much better at my job,” says Mariko Yamada, Kiroro Resort’s HR Manager. “I have become more agile, had greater exposure to upper management and have swiftly revamped HR practices across our business. I feel more prepared than ever to handle whatever business challenges I’m faced with in the future.”

With a vaccine rollout on the horizon, Kiroro Resort’s management and staff are excited by a return to normal in the near future. But in the meantime, they’re not letting the situation bring them down.

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“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and cannot wait to reopen our doors to snow lovers from all corners of the globe. But for now, we are taking the challenges in our stride and remaining thankful that we get to turn up to work each day in one of the world’s most beautiful and snowy resort towns,” concluded Martin Raich.


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