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News Navigator: Why is Japan's travel agency JTB now charging consultation fees?

A JTB branch in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward is seen in this file photo taken on Nov. 27, 2018. (Mainichi/Hironori Takechi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Japan's major travel agency JTB Corp. that began to charge customers for consulting with staff about their travel plans from April this year.

Question: Does it cost money to consult with JTB staff about my travel plans?

Answer: JTB started to charge fees for travel consultations from April this year at a total of 12 branches -- in the Greater Tokyo Area, the Tohoku region in northern Japan and the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido -- including the ones in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. It costs 2,160 yen for a consultation about a trip inside the country and 5,400 yen for an overseas trip, both including tax. JTB will consider introducing the same system in more branches depending on customer reaction.

Q: Why did JTB introduce fees for consulting about travel plans?

A: The Japanese government specifies in a model contract between travel agency and client called "standard journey business stipulation" that a customer pays a fee to a travel agency when they receive advice necessary for planning a trip. JTB has the same rule, but initially provided free consultations due to difficulties in drawing a line between a consultation and a random conversation.

Though JTB has decided to follow the rule and charge fees, it will be used to fund part of the traveling cost if the client books a trip within a month from consulting JTB staff. Moreover, JTB will still provide free consultations for honeymoon plans. The company says it has not received complaints so far.

Q: Why did JTB start charging fees now, if there was already a rule on it?

A: Amid the use of online travel agencies to book flights and hotels, which is becoming more common, the move is to remind customers of the value of information and services that only a travel agency can provide, according to JTB. Furthermore, the fees are aimed to relieve congestion at reception desks in branches. By providing free consultations for customers who make reservations in advance, JTB aims to increase such customers and reduce waiting time.

Q: Do other travel agencies charge fees for consulting about travel plans?

A: Currently, there are no other companies that charge customers when providing consultations. "There are cases in which random conversations with customers have led them to actually consult about their travel plans, and it's hard to charge fees for providing consultations, realistically speaking," explained a Nippon Travel Agency Co. official. Many other travel agencies agree with this thinking.

(Japanese original by Munehisa Ishida, Business News Department)

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