Hokkaido businesses go extra mile for overseas clients unable to enter Japan

With the COVID-19 pandemic having wiped out inbound travel, some Hokkaido companies are seeking opportunities in China, the world’s second largest economy, which already seems to be recovering from the impact of the virus.

Glove Entertainment, a Sapporo-based wedding planning firm, is looking to launch a bridal business in Sanya, on the southern Chinese resort island of Hainan, in October, while others are strengthening their marketing to appeal to Chinese customers online.

“If we can’t expect (inbound tourism) to recover, we can go overseas,” said Zhou Xinmeng, who heads a subsidiary of the firm launched in September to strengthen its inbound business.

In 2014, Glove Entertainment started a resort wedding business catering to couples from other countries holding wedding ceremonies at various tourist spots in Japan. The number of ceremonies held was 70 in 2019, up from eight in 2014, and the firm had been expecting around 100 last year.

However, most of them were postponed due to the novel coronavirus, and it’s unclear when the government will lift its entry ban for foreign tourists.

Amid this tumultuous time, the company established a joint venture with a Chinese state-run firm that is building chapels in China, thanks to a connection Zhou and other employees made at a bridal-related symposium held in Hainan four years ago.

Most of Glove Entertainment’s clients who held resort wedding ceremonies in Japan were from China, so the company had been thinking of doing business in China somewhere down the line.

“The coronavirus has accelerated the speed,” Zhou said.

On top of managing chapels, the firm plans to run restaurants, aiming to cater to 500 bridal ceremonies and rake in ¥150 million in sales within the next three years.

“Until the novel coronavirus crisis fades away, we will shore up the resort wedding business in China — which is a big market. And in the post-pandemic era, we hope that we can attract Chinese business to the inbound weddings in Hokkaido,” said Zhou.

Other Hokkaido-based firms are looking to tap the Chinese market as well.

Ishiya Co., a Sapporo-based confectionery company, has been selling its signature Shiroi Koibito cookies through several online marketplaces targeting Chinese customers since November. The firm is setting a goal to increase its overseas sales sixtyfold.

Kinotoya, another Sapporo-based confectioner, is also joining a virtual shopping mall that sells Hokkaido specialties on one of China’s major online sites.

Hokkaido Shurui Hanbai, a Sapporo-based liquor distributor, and Nitori Public Co., an ad agency under major furniture chain Nitori Holdings Co., started exporting Hokkaido sake to China in December.

As Japanese cuisine has been gaining popularity in China, they are marketing sake to restaurants and retailers in Shanghai as well as planning on selling the goods at Nitori furniture outlets in China.