Japan IRs as disaster information centers?

    Even by Japanese standards this was a rough summer in terms of natural disasters: floods, heatwaves, typhoons, and earthquakes battered the nation in rapid succession. Had there already been IRs established in, for example, Osaka or Wakayama or Hokkaido, they clearly would have been seriously impacted. Indeed, the entire nation recorded its first monthly decrease in foreign tourism this summer in many years, probably because of news of these natural calamities.

    Some special vulnerabilities were also exposed in the course of the serial disasters: Electricity grids went down causing massive blackouts; Kansai International Airport was revealed to be at a troublingly low elevation above sea level; and foreign tourists were left confused in the disaster zones, uninformed in their own languages about what they should do.

    While the frequency of such natural disasters in Japan poses risks to the future of IRs in Japan, it shouldn’t be overlooked that there may also be some inherent opportunities as well.

    Clever operators pitching for partnerships with local governments could bring to the table fresh ideas about how their IRs might not only be themselves safe, but can also contribute to making local regions more resilient and better able to cope with future disasters, which are sure to come.

    For example, it has been envisioned by the government authorities that IRs will serve as regional bases for tourism, each having a center that helps foreign tourists to make reservations and to book travel options to neighboring prefectures.

    With IR staff members thus speaking multiple languages and well informed about local conditions, could they not pull a second duty as centers of information for foreigners at times when disasters strike? Hokkaido, for example, struggled on this score after the September 6 earthquake.

    There may be other roles that IRs can play in times of trouble, and advance thought to these possibilities might be appreciated by local governments and the general public.