Major travel agency JTB Corp. has started selling a system to lodging facilities in Japan that allows their guests to chat with staff using their own smartphones, in an effort to prevent the coronavirus spread by reducing face-to-face contact.

Supplied photo shows an image of the "Kotozna In-room" chat system. (Photo courtesy of JTB Corp.)(Kyodo)  

The system, "Kotozna In-room," jointly developed with Kotozna Inc., a multilingual chat service provider based in Tokyo, can translate 109 languages, enabling communication with foreign guests in their mother tongues.

Although some lodging facilities use tablets installed at guest rooms for communication, the new system, put on sale Oct. 1, "can further alleviate the fear of infections as only owners touch their smartphones for personal use in most cases," said a JTB spokesperson.

Once guests at hotels, "ryokan" traditional Japanese inns and other accommodations, scan a QR code for the service via their smartphones, they can chat with lodging staff from anywhere in the facilities without downloading an application.

The prolonged coronavirus outbreak has battered the tourism industry. The government is now implementing a subsidy program aimed at reviving domestic travel demand, and the industry is hoping to attract tourists while taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Even after restrictions on the entry of foreign tourists to Japan are lifted following containment of the pandemic, the system is expected to be useful in serving foreign guests as letters typed by them in their mother tongues will be automatically translated into Japanese for display on lodging staff terminals.

The system is also expected to help streamline operations at lodging facilities. Some simple questions can be answered automatically by artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, enabling staff to do other work.

To introduce the service, lodging facilities pay JTB a minimum of 253,000 yen ($2,400), depending on the size of the facility, with a monthly fee of a few hundred yen per room added.



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