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Is Seibu a railway company? Is Seibu a hotel company? Is Seibu a real estate developer? These are questions posed and answered by Seibu Holdings Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Takashi Goto as he shared the company’s plans and vision with members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) on September 10. The ACCJ CEO Forum event took place at Tokyo American Club and focused on the Seibu Group’s role and approaches to inbound tourism and future urban development.

CEO Forum Co-Chair Harry Hill welcomed those people in attendance before passing the microphone to ACCJ President Sachin N. Shah, who introduced Goto. Noting that this was Goto’s first ACCJ event, Shah shared his admiration for Goto and appreciation for the relation­ship between Seibu and his own company, MetLife Insurance K.K. Not only does MetLife call Seibu’s flagship Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho property home, the company also sponsors the stadium of the Saitama Seibu Lions—the MetLife Dome—in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.

Stating that the ACCJ is focusing on five important advocacy themes this year—one of which is Tourism, Sports, and Hospitality—Shah said: “Seibu operates transportation, hotel and leisure facilities, and real estate business across Japan. It runs the Seibu railway lines and owns the Prince hotels, one of the largest hotel chains in Japan. With this diverse business portfolio, Seibu is well positioned to capture new growth opportunities to contribute to the development of Japan’s economy and society beyond 2020.”

The Prince Park Tower Tokyo in Shiba Koen

Shah’s introduction was the perfect spring­board for Goto, who became president and CEO of Seibu Holdings Inc. in February 2006 after rising to the position of vice president at Mizuho Corporate Bank, Ltd.

“How many people in this room can iden­tify Seibu?” Goto asked before explaining that Seibu is a conglomerate that includes 79 subsidiaries across six business segments: urban transportation, hotel and leisure, real estate, construction, Hawaii, and others (including the Saitama Seibu Lions). He also cleared up a common miscon­ception: “It seems that people often get confused, [thinking] that Seibu department store is part of Seibu. We share the same roots, but they are currently part of Seven & i Holdings.”

Transportation is perhaps the business segment people associate most closely with the Seibu name. Subsidiary Seibu Railway Company, Ltd. has major termi­nals at Ikebukuro and Shinjuku Stations from which it serves Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture. “The railway extends to areas in Chichibu and Kawagoe, where tourists visit for historical significance, cultural value, and beauty of nature,” explained Goto. In all, Seibu’s railway operations cover 176.6 kilometers and move 1.8 million passengers daily (658 million annually).

Seibu also holds another piece of the tourism puzzle: hotels. The Prince brand—one of Japan’s best known—is operated by the company, which has a total of 43 hotels across Japan.

“In the hotel and leisure business, we have seen great performance thanks to an increase in the number of inbound tourists,” Goto said. In fact, the number has grown by 29 percent annually for the past six years. “The government target of 40 million annual visitors by 2020 is likely to be achieved,” he added. “Amid strong inbound demand, we want to take advantage of our resources in railway and hotel businesses, and we want to play a key role in this.”

Seibu is well positioned to do so, with The Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa, Tokyo Prince Hotel, The Prince Park Tower Tokyo, and the new Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho—which sits atop the same mixed-use building that houses MetLife—all being popular destinations in the city.

For those seeking culture and natural beauty outside the city, Seibu offers The Prince Hakone Lake Ashinoko near Mt. Fuji in Kanagawa Prefecture, the New Furano Prince Hotel and Prince Ski Resort Furano in Hokkaido Prefecture, and four destinations in Nagano Prefecture—Karuizawa Prince Hotel East, Karuizawa 72 Golf Course, The Prince Villa Karuizawa, and Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza—all easily accessible from Tokyo by Seibu’s bus service.

To meet the needs of the growing number of tourists and to maximize the opportu­nity to increase revenue, Seibu is under­taking three initiatives: enhancing the value of existing hotels, speeding up the opening of new hotels, and launching a new limited-service brand.

The company is targeting more guests from North America, Europe, and Australia who are willing to spend more cash for better rooms and services, and Goto said they are having success thanks to various efforts.

“We are investing in services and facili­ties to attract a wide range of customers from overseas and Japan. In the Tokyo area, we are renovating several hotels to improve the guest stay and to provide an opportunity for inbound tourists to experience Japanese culture. For example, we have completed the renovation of guest rooms, lobbies, and restaurants at the main Prince hotels.” And offering traditional Japanese experiences, such as hanami, kimono, ikebana, and washoku, is another way in which Seibu is catering to inbound tourists.

To speed up the opening of new hotels, Seibu is making use of a mix of franchising, management contracts, and leasing. The first Prince hotel in Nagoya opened in October 2017, and Seibu signed a management contract with NTT UD for their redevelopment project in Kyoto, which will see a new hotel opening next summer.

Seibu is also planning its first limited-service chain: the Prince Smart Inn. Created in response to diversified de­mands and booming inbound tourism, Prince Smart Inn—the first of which will open in Ebisu in the summer of 2020—will utilize information and communi­ca­tion technology as well as artificial intelligence to provide smart services that will be functional, convenient, and comfortable for customers.

Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho mixed-use complex looms over The Classic House at Akasaka Prince.

As a real estate company that is the largest land owner in Tokyo, Seibu is working to transform the city in coordination with the government.

July 2016 saw the opening of the 227,200-square-meter Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho, which took three years to build on the site previously occupied by the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka.

“We developed the site into a mixed-use facility, with a hotel, an office building—with a wonderful tenant, MetLife—residences, and restaurants. We successfully improved the value of this area. The know-how we gained from this project will definitely benefit our future projects and help us con­tribute to the develop­ment of Tokyo.”

But that was just the start. Seibu owns 113 acres of land within Tokyo’s 23 wards, including around Shinagawa Station—an area the company plans to redevelop after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Our land holding in Takanawa and Shinagawa is especially important, because the potential of this asset will be a trigger to our future growth,” Goto said.

Seibu sees this area as key to Japan’s future as a global business hub. Shina­gawa Station—already a terminal for bullet trains connecting to Hakata and a transfer station for Haneda Airport—will be the starting point for the new Chuo Shinkansen, a maglev train that will connect Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027. At that point, Goto believes, the city’s most important transportation hub will shift from Tokyo Station to Shinagawa Station.

The redevelopment plans will bring signi­ficant change. Seibu currently operates four hotels in this area—Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa, Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa, and The Prince Sakura Tower Tokyo—but that will change. “We will keep offering services as a hotel operator until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, but, after that, we will develop the area as a large-scale mixed-use redevelopment and introduce Shinagawa as a global business hub.”

Tokyo isn’t the only site of Seibu’s activity. Back in Saitama Prefecture, in Tokorozawa, the Ballpark Project is under­way to transform the MetLife Dome and surrounding area.

“Like a ballpark in the United States, we want to develop this area where family and friends can get together any time, not only for guest fans but for new audiences such as tourists who can watch Japanese baseball for the first time.”

The MetLife Dome, home to the Saitama Seibu Lions, is part of a redevelopment project in Tokorozawa.

Is Seibu a railway company? Yes. Is Seibu a hotel company? Yes. Is Seibu a real estate developer? Yes. Seibu, Goto said, is a company that supports the tourism nation, and will continue to improve the value of its services and assets.

“We will use our know-how to find the best solution for the changing, growing future. We want to put a smile on everyone’s face, making everyone happy. Our motto, ‘Smile ahead,’ reflects such a spirit.

“Japan recently faced several disasters, such as heavy rains in the western area, typhoons, and the earthquake in Hokkaido. But, we Japanese have overcome these natural disasters in the past, and I am confident that, with everyone’s support, we will survive these, too. Seibu will definitely play an important role in helping Japan survive these disasters and will continue to support the country that has the goal of becoming a great tourism nation.”

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
Seibu owns 113 acres of land within Tokyo's 23 wards, including around Shinagawa Station—an area the company plans to redevelop after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.