Twenty-one bus tour guides of Naha Bus Co. and Ryukyu Bus Kotsu are now working at a call center in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, to take customer orders for women’s clothing.
The two bus companies of the Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo group dispatched the guides to the call center, as part of efforts to raise productivity during the off-season.
Summer is typically a lean time for tour-guide service companies in Okinawa.
Okinawa’s many beach resorts make it a popular tourist destination in the summer, so air fares usually rise during high season. This in turn discourages group tourism and dents demand for bus tour guides, Itsuo Oshiro, a managing director at Naha Bus, said.
Group tours start to pick up again once students flock to Okinawa for school trips in autumn, he said.
This cycle creates urgent demands for the bus companies to secure personnel, together with the challenge of keeping them productive during the quiet season. In the past, employees have worked for other bus and rental car companies in and outside Okinawa.
The call center started accepting interested workers from the bus companies last year after Shinichi Hanamure, the head of Mitsui & Co.’s Naha branch office, mentioned the concerns of the Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo group.
The 21 guides now work at the call center of the Okinawa branch office of Relia Inc. in Naha’s Omoromachi district. They remain the bus companies’ employees while temporarily working at the call center.
“As they are well trained in their (tour guide) jobs, they are good at phone customer service,” an official at Relia said. “They have a well-developed sense and can anticipate customer’s wants better than rookies. So they have a positive impact on other staff.”
At the call center, the interpersonal skills required of tour guides are immediately transferable in providing customer service over the phone. The guides say working in such a different environment is also a good experience.
Hidemi Nakamine, Aiko Masu and Yuki Maezato have been working two to four days a week at the call center since the end of the Golden Week in May.
“I’m finally getting used to the work,” Nakamine said.
Masu sees this as a good opportunity to training for other work, given that she may not be guaranteed employment as a tour guide in the future.
“We are serving customers without actually seeing them. This experience makes me rethink how a bus tour guide should speak with customers,” Maezato said.
Mitsui’s Hanamure says the move may resolve the labor shortage Okinawa faces as the regional economy continues to grow.
“This sort of stopgap measure to share workforces between companies in the on- and off-seasons could be a way of addressing the issue,” Hanamure said.
This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major daily in the prefecture. The original article was published on Aug. 22.