Workcation to make the flow of people – Innovation for regional revitalization
The following is a discussion between three people; Mr. Kageaki Watanabe, representative of the guest house called kaien Hostel & Café Bar in Aizuwakamatsu City, a place already well known for their smart city initiatives; Mr. Yasuhiro Suzuki, working in the Aizuwakamatsu City Tourism Division Tourism planning group to bring a stop to the decreasing population in the city with new plans to expand the influx of people; and Mr. Akihisa Obara from the Seiko Epson Corporation DX Strategic Promotion Section, who proposed the placement of a co-working space in kaien Hostel & Café Bar. The three talked about the smart city undertakings of Aizuwakamatsu City that are advancing in cooperation of industry, government, and academia, and the environment required in order to attract people to the city on a workcation.
■Mr. Kageaki Watanabe
Representative of kaien Hostel & Café Bar
■Mr. Yasuhiro Suzuki
Aizuwakamatsu City Deputy chief of TourismDivision Tourism planning group
■Mr. Akihisa Obara
Manager of DX Strategic Promotion Department, Seiko Epson Corporation
*Terms of address are abbreviated during the text.
I first heard about kaien from someone at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry—that a hostel with an interested concept had been established in Nanokamachi—and I’ve been interested in doing some kind of official city collaboration ever since. So when I heard that you were working with Seiko Epson Corp.—who has already moved into our ICT office “SmartCityAiCT,” advancing in Aizuwakamatsu City through cooperation among industry, government, and academia—in order to create a co-working space in your hostel, I approached you to see if you would help us with promotion of workcation.
When you told me that just attracting tourists isn’t enough anymore to offset the decreasing population, and how you wanted to promote workcation in order to increase the flow of people into the city, it wasn’t just that I disliked the idea of my hometown fading away; I had actually already moved back here and started my guesthouse in order to help revitalize the city, and so right away I very much wanted to help out.
We recently held a workcation monitoring tour at Higashiyama Onsen, which is located in the city, and kaien was immediately set up as one of the places on the tour. We have been setting up a foundation for our ideas, but still didn’t really have a solid idea where to start. We were looking to gain a firm understanding of corporate needs and regional feelings, and the cooperation of kaien really allowed us to see a model of the co-working spaces that we should currently be seeking to implement in the city. Having actually visited and taken a look at what they are doing, for example, they have introduced a simple check-in system, and also have a printer there that guests can use, taking the form of a new kind of hospitality. It isn’t enough to have Wi-Fi and that’s it; just like a hotel offers amenities such as soap and shampoo, we realized that people desire co-working spaces with attention given to making them easy to use. If we further enhance this kind of message, I think we will be able to make greater appeals outside the region as destination for workcation.
I actually stayed there myself, and also used the work space. It really is a very nice guesthouse, and it almost felt like I was at home. When it comes to workcation, this idea of providing a “place that feels comfortable” is a very important factor, and it reaffirmed for me that—for example—the printers and other equipment that we provide need to blend into that atmosphere, fitting into the place they are located.
Before we faced the issues presented by COVID-19, we weren’t thinking about bringing in guests using the co-working space. When Seiko Epson Corp. asked us, we strongly felt the importance of the workspace. That means I don’t have the correct answers myself yet, and we’re still in a state of trail-and-error. I think it’s very important to listen to what customers are saying and make updates accordingly. Ultimately, whatever their purpose, if my guesthouse is the reason more people come to Aizu then that would make me really happy. Something else we need is a shared awareness that simply increasing the traffic of people into the city isn’t enough; we also need to think about the further effects beyond that.
Recently, when our guests use our co-working space, we’ve been proactively introducing them to other guesthouses in the vicinity of Aizu that also offer co-working spaces; our intent is to have people who visit us stretch their legs beyond our immediate environs, making them like Aizu even more. Ideally, from among those people, some will start to select Aizu as a base for workcation, and it may even lead to them coming to live in Aizu in the future, or as a location for a second home.
I was so impressed that we have people in the private sector already thinking like this. These areas that the city should be thinking actively about start undertakings in, have already been developed by kaien. I think this is a problem that many regional cities face—the era is long since ended in which you can just make sure tour groups come to the city and you’ll be fine. If I state this plainly, we need to do whatever it takes to create movement among people, or we won’t be able to stop the decline of tourism and the fall in the population of Aizu, and the services we need to provide for people will dry up before we can even bring in any visitors. My interactions with kaien has made me freshly aware that we need to approach this issue with that acute sense of danger for our collective future. The topic of living here or having a second home here has already come up; increasing the flow of people is truly a lifeline for regional cities, and as the current revolution in working continues the new focus on workcation provides a big opportunity.
That’s right. It’s something you can also say for our own business—it’s good to have a broad scope. If we can’t get them to come in the first place then, good, bad, no one will know.
To tell you the truth, we’d been talking about getting into working vacations, but never even really had a clear idea exactly what workcation is. Those concerns were removed when Seiko Epson Corp. and the other companies in our SmartCityAiCT made the point that by being here, coming to work here, that’s already one form of workcation. Before COVID-19, there were some things that felt like they had reached a natural conclusion with SmartCityAiCT. After the effects of the virus, the people at SmartCityAiCT also had to start remote working, and so we now need to take things a step further—really create an entire environment for workcation.
I agree. At Seiko Epson Corp. we’ve had a spot in SmartCityAiCT since July 2020, and people who come here for training or extended deployment can be said that they have already experienced workcation. In addition, as Mr. Watanabe just said, bringing in activities that allow people to work while traveling Aizu and widening their perspective will allow for encounters with people in non-standard working formats—such as freelancers—and using the knowledge gained from these encounters in further work should lead to the implementation of open innovation. I think using the technology and services provided by Seiko Epson Corp. in a variety of ways, co-creating things with our partners and promoting the resolution of problems, will lead to advancement into a true smart city.
We need to think of more ways to get lodgers and users to visit other surrounding areas, discovering more of the appeal of Aizu for themselves.
One more thing that I think is very important in regard to workcation is that, while certainly considering the convenience of those using the facilities, we also must not leave the local people behind. This is something that doesn’t just apply to working vacations, but could be said about smart cities as a whole—when conducting ongoing town planning that includes digitization, no matter the slogans or whatever you put together, if the people of the city feel distanced by your approach then you are putting the cart before the horse. In order to prevent this, we need local places that citizens can also use, letting them feel the evolution of Aizuwakamatsu into a smart city; I think kaien is also a great showcase of that aspect of this undertaking. I’m hoping that each of our citizens making use of facilities such as kaien and coming to understand our smart city and workcation.