Japan’s Fiscal Year 2023 – A Bumpy, Fascinating Journey

The Japanese fiscal year (FY), concluding in March in alignment with the seasons, offers a fascinating perspective on business cycles. Here, March marks the culmination of the year’s efforts and serves as a springboard for new beginnings. As business development manager at Japan Travel KK, FY2023 carried significant challenges and triumphs. This reflection delves into trends shaping Japan’s tourism & hospitality, impactful contributions made throughout the year, and lessons you may find valuable as we enter FY2024.

March In Japan: A Season Of Endings

Japan’s fiscal year, from 01 April to 31 March, makes March a microcosm of endings, a time of celebration, reflection, and preparation.

Many employees celebrate their year’s hard work with gatherings at bustling izakayas. As the academic year follows the same calendar, jubilant graduates in kimono can be seen at the same time, taking selfies if they are not on graduation trips abroad. This revelry is coloured by thoughts of transition for those whose contract will not be renewed on 01 April, for those who have to relocate far from their family, and for those who are quitting for a more attractive job. Mirroring these lives, the timely cherry blossoms set the stage for lively “hanami” flower-viewing picnics then disappear, carried away by a gentle breeze or struck to the ground by rain.

Behind the scenes, teams race to meet deadlines and salespeople squeeze in last-minute discussions with clients to advocate for initiatives that would benefit their company before themes and budgets get finalised for the next 12 months. No promises expected but this last opportunity to plant seeds for future success can transform the next fiscal year…

March 2023: A Whirlwind For Me

As FY2023 ended minutes ago, I noticed the first cherry blossoms near my home in Tokyo and felt a wave of relief wash over me. All the deadlines were met. Tomorrow Saturday should be extremely relaxing, without distracting thoughts of transition.

In response to the M7.6 earthquake in Noto Peninsula in January and the resulting limitations on travel and in-person events, I pivoted to create comprehensive training manuals in February & March, which should serve as valuable replacements for the on-site seminars that had been planned to train local cycling guide candidates. This earthquake caused widespread devastation and personal anxieties, magnified by aftershocks and heavy snowfalls. Concerns for local acquaintances, coupled with the realisation that the disaster could have unfolded while I was there (seminars planned just weeks later + cycling project last autumn + campervan project last summer), evoked a deep sense of sadness and worry. With the region’s and locals’ future in mind, I was meticulous to ensure that the manuals could revitalise the economy when the time is right.

During March, I also oversaw the dispatch of final reports, brainstormed with partners to generate joint business proposals for FY2024, and met officials of cities that can benefit from the Hokuriku Shinkansen extended line (which I rode on launch day – 16 March). With a touch of sadness, I learnt of staff departures at our company and at partner companies.

FY2023: Tourism Booms, Jobs Abound

This year has been a time of resilience, rewards and renewed opportunities for Japanese businesses.

FY2023 demonstrated the resilience of Japanese businesses, including to exceptional events such as the 2024 Noto Earthquake and the Haneda Airport runway collision. While the lingering effects of the Russia-Ukraine war impacted flight routes (much longer from/to Europe nowadays) and inflation continued (following decades of deflation), Japan’s tourism & hospitality industries saw a significant resurgence. In October 2023, foreign tourist arrivals surpassed pre-pandemic levels, bolstered by an attractive exchange rate (151 yen per dollar and 160 per euro instead of 108 & 120 pre-pandemic).

Amidst these challenges, innovative companies and their employees reaped significant rewards. Fashion giant Uniqlo led the way with wage increases (up to +40%), spearheading a national trend towards recognizing the value of employees. Our company Japan Travel KK celebrated its 10th anniversary with success stories across both its Media & Travel departments. Our Media department garnered viral attention with a video exceeding 1 million views on Instagram, while our Travel department thrived on multilingual interactions thanks to staff from France, Germany, Italy… Additionally, a client of mine, a female leader operating on Mount Minobu, received a “Best Inbound Travel” national award for her contributions 🙂

The revitalised tourism & hospitality industries have been presenting exciting growth opportunities. “Off-season” is a more prominent keyword, complementing “off-the-beaten-track”. Ski resorts are exploring summer offerings, while unique destinations like Kashihara (tomb of the first Japanese emperor), Izumo (Grand Shrine with a giant rope) and Kurokawa-onsen (hot springs with a myriad of colours & textures) move towards international recognition. Furthermore, staffing shortages highlight job & career opportunities for foreigners wishing to work in Japan. Japanese managers should find foreigners good investments if they help extend business hours, reduce delays of goods deliveries, enable travel agencies to provide guides, enable hotels to open all their rooms, and enable airports to manage additional flights!

FY2023: Personal Growth With Impactful Contributions

FY2023 marked a significant milestone in my career – my first full year doing sales as a business development manager. This year of tremendous personal growth allowed me to hone my skills and deliver impactful results across several industries.

I broadened my skill set by managing various projects, including video production to promote campervan tourism and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions). I also collaborated with Taiwanese influencers to promote a skyscraper complex, worked with an American photographer to promote beauty products, and dispatched a knowledgeable & passionate travel agent to consult on regenerative tourism (scheduling conflicts prevented me from participating directly).

Campervan tourism in Noto Peninsula – I supervised and appear in many scenes.
Osaka for MICE organisers – I supervised and briefly appear in some scenes.

I secured projects with prominent clients such as the Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau, and with newspapers, consulting firms, etc. for budgets of up to 3 million yen (20,000 dollars, 18,000 euros). We consistently fulfilled 100% of client requirements, often significantly exceeding the KPIs thanks to our talented creative & marketing teams. Projects undertaken with our sister company, Japan Partnership Holdings, resulted in high-quality publication combos in Metropolis Magazine and the Japan Travel portal, reaching a wide audience encompassing foreign residents (including embassy staff and American soldiers), international travellers visiting Japan, and individuals from various countries planning future trips.

My fluency in English, French and Japanese facilitated communication with diverse stakeholders, and I had the delight of working with atypical clients/partners including Buddhist priests and the LGBTQ+ community. Finally, the creation of the training manuals was an opportunity to increase awareness and make Japan more inclusive so I included materials addressing topics such as dietary needs (allergies, vegan, halal), family trips with young children, and tours for individuals with disabilities.

Lessons Learnt During FY2023

My experience this year underscored that business developers:

  • Must prioritise self-care (a healthy work-life balance) to maintain optimal performance or even prevent burnout. For me, it includes small daily wins such as savouring vegan meals, embracing a sustainable lifestyle, and occasional “me time” during extended vacations.
  • Must be flexible and responsive. My year presented unexpected situations (e.g. Noto earthquake) and many atypical requests (e.g. promotion of Yuranza performers to the MICE community).
  • Should exceed their clients’ expectations. Good organisation, effective teamwork (a testament to my colleagues’ professionalism and to our HR department’s talent acquisition efforts), and motivation to think beyond basic requirements (e.g. from “for westerners” to advertising strategies based on factors such as direct flight connections to Japan, or GDP per capita) helped me build client loyalty, get additional contracts, and be introduced to key decision-makers.
  • May be most effective and most creative when combining traditional pen & paper (especially in coffee shops or family restaurants in my case) with modern technology (e.g. generative AI, LinkedIn Learning).
  • Can find continuous learning incredibly rewarding. I embraced new challenges, for example driving a campervan for the first time during a video project, thus gaining self-confidence, great memories, new ideas for my private life, and arguments for sales to countryside officials.
  • Can feel really valued and irreplaceable when they possess unique expertise within a company, especially if rare within a broader industry. This was evident when I advised colleagues who were creating a vegan tour in Japan for a vegan VIP.

Looking Forward To FY2024

At the threshold of the new fiscal year, I am fueled by a sense of optimism and a resolute commitment to driving positive change. This passion extends particularly to the prefectures where I have already played a role in fostering tourism, events, and export initiatives. With the global spotlight transitioning in 5 months from the 2024 Olympics & Paralympics in Paris to the highly anticipated 2025 World Expo in Osaka, I am confident that my company and I are positioned for an exceptional year.

If you feel that my experience/skills and Japan Travel KK’s resources can empower you to reach your goals, I invite you to connect with me today to discuss how I can help.