Staff writers Y2K wise men say, only fools rush out on New Year’s Eve. Yet, as many stayed home for the definitive moment, tens of thousands of private company officials left their homes Friday to stand guard at their offices for possible Y2K problems, unwittingly providing a millennium windfall to the hotel industry. In response to the Y2K threat, a number of companies increased their regular number of on-duty employees. While Tokyo Gas Co. upped its count from 270 to 1,000, Tokyo Electric Power Co. added 3,500 to its crew, and NTT Corp. and its affiliates increased staff 10-fold. Officials at utilities worried that public reactions triggered by Y2K, rather than the millennium computer bug itself, would hamper their regular service, including the jamming of lines caused by those checking that their phones were operating normally after midnight. Tokyo-based Nomura Research Institute Co. Ltd. mobilized a significantly larger-than-normal 2,000 employees nationwide during the holiday period. In Tokyo alone, the institute put several hundred officials on duty. While Nomura’s Tokyo operation has its own accommodation facilities for employees, it also had to reserve 20 to 30 hotel rooms in the capital for them, an institute official said. Indeed, many companies sought shelter for employees mobilized for the occasion. Many medium-priced “business hotels” in Shinjuku Ward, a major business center in Tokyo, were at full capacity New Year’s Eve, traditionally a time when bookings are sometimes halved. Hotel officials said the increase was mostly attributable to companies’ corresponding increase in staffers, especially in computer- and banking-related industries. Reservations for Dec. 31 at Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Minato Ward started to flood in from around April, and the 3,008-room hotel had to limit Y2K-related lodgers to its 500 single rooms in order to make way for yearend revelers, a hotel official said. “In a regular year, we get no reservations for New Year’s Eve in April and May,” the official said. Meanwhile, hotels had been preparing their own Y2K strategies by increasing the number of employees Friday and preparing larger-than-normal stockpiles of food and mineral water. Shinagawa Prince Hotel set up a special headquarters and placed employees at “strategic points” of the building. The hotel’s usual two-day stock of food and water for 4,853 people, the hotel’s capacity, was increased to five days’ worth this year. “We are fully prepared. To maintain a feeling of security is what a hotel’s business is all about,” the official said. Yet an official of a hotel in Shinjuku said the increased profits brought about by the occasion gave him mixed feelings due to the unexpected side effects of Y2K. Also looking pretty on New Year’s Eve were the metropolis’s convenience store chains, many of which had sent notices around affiliated stores advising them to up stocks for the occasion.Forever mindful of a business opportunity, some convenience store chains were providing special “bento” boxed lunch services for the glut of employees who had been mobilized Jan. 31. Family Mart official Kiyoshi Baba said affiliated stores in hotel districts had been advised to increase their regular stocks. Additionally, special orders for boxed lunches, which average about 200 per weekday nationwide, jumped to 8,000 for Friday, according to the chain. Yukihiro Hishiyama, manager of a Lawson branch in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, where a number of computer-related companies are located, said he had received some 20 orders for bento from nearby businesses — a total of some 150 lunch boxes. Hishiyama also said that supplies of regular lunch boxes and “onigiri” rice balls for Dec. 31 would be 150 percent higher than a regular New Year’s Eve. “We’re expecting quite a number of people to be reporting for work in the area, so we have advised stores to increase stocks for their benefit,” said Hiroyasu Satoh, an official at Lawson’s head office. The managers of over 20 stores in Shinjuku run by the likes of am/pm, Lawson, Just Spot and Seven-Eleven were somewhat blase about advice from above. One am/pm store located in a major Shinjuku business area said his own store had no intention of increasing stocks. “We’re never busy on weekends because there’s nobody around,” he said, adding that the normal 50 percent weekend reduction of stocks would apply. Although he insisted that other am/pm branches would be increasing stocks, one manager of an am/pm outlet nearby said he had no intention of doing so. Another declared that his store was closed Friday. A nearby Ministop branch manager, however, was much more upbeat. “Without a doubt, weekend sales are much lower than weekdays, but I expect many people will report to work this year, so compared with a regular weekend, I intend to increase stocks slightly,” said Shuichi Morita, manager of a Shinjuku outlet.
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