Welcoming tourists back to a safe Kyoto—hospitality in the age of COVID
Many people want to visit Kyoto for a fall outing to enjoy the autumn leaves and seasonal cuisine, but are hesitant to do so. Their flicker of unease as to what might happen if they are infected with COVID-19 during their trip is understandable.
We would like you to know that the Kyoto City Tourism Association and businesses in the tourism industry are working together as a team to implement a range of infection control measures.
In this article, I will introduce the details of initiatives to keep us safe, including the guidelines that form the basis of those initiatives, stickers that indicate establishments that customers can visit with peace of mind, and a new project that customers can participate in to contribute to the strengthening of infection control measures. I also spoke with Shinichi Terada, the owner of Nishijin Uoshin, a long-standing restaurant serving Kyoto cuisine established in 1855, who has actually implemented these measures.
1.Kyoto's COVID-19 safety sticker and the "Safety Today, Smiles Tomorrow"project
— What are the colorful stickers we often see lately pasted at the entrances of shops and restaurants around town?
Kyoto City Tourism Association (hereafter simply referred to as “Tourism Association”): These stickers are to show that the business is committed to complying with the guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19. In July this year, 23 tourism-related businesses in Kyoto City and the prefecture answered our call and together we drew up a Kyoto version of guidelines for COVID-19 infection control measures for safer tourism (in Japanese only at https://ja.kyoto.travel/withcorona/guideline/).
At the time, the stay-home period and travel restrictions between prefectures were being relaxed, so we felt that it was important to properly ensure the safety of everyone, including Kyoto residents, tourists and those in the tourism industry, before we welcomed tourists.
We distribute these stickers to businesses that support and comply with these guidelines.
— So the stickers show that everyone involved in Kyoto’s tourism industry came together to create the guidelines. How many establishments are there at the moment displaying the stickers?
Tourism Association: There were about 7,500 at the end of September. Their use has spread beyond restaurants and retail stores to various industries involved in tourism, such as accommodation facilities, tourist facilities, and bus and taxi companies, so they have become quite familiar.
— Could you tell me about some of the features of the guidelines?
Tourism Association: There are three main features of the Kyoto guidelines.
The first is that the guidelines are for protecting the safety of not only tourists, but also local residents and workers. It is aimed at businesses in Kyoto’s tourism industry, which can protect the safety of local residents by taking the initiative on infection control measures and acting appropriately toward tourists.
The second is that the guidelines cover various industries. Industry-specific standards have also been established for accommodation providers, restaurants, transportation providers, etc., but the Kyoto guidelines cover all industries and aim to make tourism in Kyoto safe overall, thereby protecting everyone.
And the third is that the guidelines plan to integrate infection control measures with Kyoto’s unique hospitality. Promoting infection control measures may mean that we cannot provide the same hospitality and service as in the past, but the Kyoto guidelines strive to bring about a new style of hospitality that allows thorough infection control measures and hospitality to exist in harmony.
Tourism Association: We have also created a new scheme that supports the increased infection control measures of businesses involved in Kyoto tourism called the “Safety Today, Smiles Tomorrow” project.
— Could you tell me more about that?
Tourism Association: It’s a project that invites guests to complete a survey on an establishment’s infection control measures via a QR code at the entrance of a restaurant or accommodation facility displaying the sticker. The responses and messages of support are then sent to the establishment as feedback.
Tourism Association: The survey only takes a couple of minutes to complete and respondents are entered into a monthly draw for one of ten 5,000 yen Amazon gift codes. We’d really like customers to spend a few moments, maybe on their way home, to let us know their thoughts.
— Oh, so there are gifts too! But it must open the door to harsh criticism in addition to nice comments.
Tourism Association: That’s right. However, we sincerely accept those views and hope they lead to improved infection control measures. The resulting changes should then be reflected in subsequent survey feedback. We expect each restaurant and facility to try to brush up on their efforts based on the evaluations of customers, thus raising the level of infection control measures of restaurants and accommodation facilities in Kyoto.
— Are there any other measures that provide for the safety of customers in addition to those you’ve mentioned?
Tourism Association: For everyone’s peace of mind, we would also like people to register with services such as the Kyoto City Notification Service of COVID-19 Positive Cases, Kyoto Prefecture’s COVID-19 emergency contact service KOCOTORO or the COVID-19 Contact-Confirming Application COCOA. You can then record the shops, restaurants and facilities you have visited, and then be notified if you are a high-risk contact in the event that someone was infected there. You can then quickly go and get tested to see if you have contracted the virus and thereby minimize the risk of infecting your family and others around you.
— I’ve learned that there’s a wide range of infection control measures in place centered on the keyword of “safety”!
2.An interview - the owner of Nishijin Uoshin, a restaurant that has actually implemented the guidelines
— Nishijin Uoshin displays the sticker. What specific measures have you adopted at the restaurant?
Shinichi Terada, owner of Nishijin Uoshin: First, we’ve implemented the basics such as doing temperature checks when customers enter the restaurant, providing alcohol-based sanitizer, wearing masks, having good ventilation and installing acrylic screens to prevent droplet transmission.
Shinichi: In addition, we also strive to keep tourists, staff, local residents and everyone else safe by monitoring the health of staff, implementing infection control measures, as well as a having a plan and being thoroughly prepared in the event that there is a suspected case of infection.
— The third feature of the guidelines is the integration of infection control measures with Kyoto’s unique hospitality. I’d love to hear if you have implemented a new style of hospitality.
Shinichi: Since summer, for example, we’ve been providing cedar uchiwa fans for free as part of the service. We got this idea when we saw a female customer flip open a folding fan and hold it in front of her mouth to casually prevent droplets from spreading whenever she spoke to her companion during the meal.
Also, after seeing customers at a loss as to where to put their masks or carelessly sticking them in their pockets, we started providing storage bags for masks. We also give a bottle of hand sanitizer spray to each customer. It’s for disinfecting their hands during the meal as well as for infection control after leaving the restaurant. We’re constantly thinking about how to create a more comfortable dining experience for our customers and that’s led to new ways of providing hospitality.
— Even if there is less opportunity to interact with the staff, you can still experience the spirit of Kyoto’s unique hospitality through the service in conjunction with infection control measures. Discovering the ways each establishment provides hospitality could become part of the fun!
— I was told the survey results are passed on to the establishments. What kind of feedback have you got so far?
Shinichi: In response to the question of whether infection control measures were adequate, some rated us highly, saying that they felt the temperature checks, sanitizing, mask storage bags, etc. had been carefully thought out. We’ve also received warm messages of support like “Please keep providing wonderful dishes and service. Thank you for not letting COVID-19 take away your smiles.” Hearing directly from customers is very encouraging and makes me happy.
— What has been the response to this suite of measures, including the creation of the Kyoto guidelines, the issuing of stickers and this project for supporting and strengthening infection control measures?
Shinichi: First, the specific implementation policies of the Kyoto guidelines have clarified the aim of the previously vague infection control measures and allowed us to take a positive approach in adopting them. I think more and more people are checking for the sticker before entering an establishment as they become increasingly aware of COVID-19 prevention.
Shinichi: Infection control measures have already become commonplace, so customers readily comply with temperature checks and sanitizing their hands. I think businesses and customers in Kyoto will continue to cooperate and the system will be well-placed to provide a safe environment. Now that the project for supporting and strengthening infection control measures has also started, I would like to work hard toward helping make tourism in Kyoto even safer.
— Through hearing about the various initiatives in place, I have truly come to understand that everyone involved in Kyoto’s tourism industry is united and is doing their utmost for Kyoto as a whole! I hope we too, as customers, all respect the rules of each business and assent to their infection control measures. Thank you!
Planning and editing: Takahiro Mitsukawa and Mayu Hasegawa (bank to LLC.)