Japan’s Border better serves business travelers, looks to disrupt travel agency industry



See the original story in Japanese.

I’m in Jakarta, and will be in Taiwan next week. Booking flights and accommodation is time-consuming. While friends recommend that I use an online secretary service like Kaori-san, it would be difficult to tell someone my exact preference. We have had no choice but to make online bookings by ourselves. However, a Japanese startup recently popped up to address this dilemma. They are called Border (named after ‘Business Order’), where tour operators help you book and make arrangements focused on business travel.


The above diagram shows how an order will be processed when making a flight and a hotel reservation. In conventional systems, your order is transferred from a travel agency to an airline company or a hotel via a tour operator. This flow is not changed even with discounted travel ticketing sites like Expedia, so they are not disruptive from that point of view. In other words, their cheap prices are made possible by no physical storefront and efforts for reducing intermediate cost by tour operators, airline companies, and hotel operators.

Meanwhile, if you use Border, your order will bypass a travel agency. Instead, several tour operators will propose travel plans based on your preferences for airlines or hotels. This is similar to Ietty where users can receive proposals for their new home from multiple property companies.

Border CEO Tomoki Hosotani explained:

Tour operators are all Japanese companies. They are licensed under Japan’s Travel Agency Act, and they also have local offices in major cities in the world. Their representative in these offices will hear your preference using our service, so they can propose travel plans to you while other discounted ticketing sites.

While these tour operators usually wholesale their packages to travel agencies, they have certified travel service supervisors in the company that can deal with travel orders in Japanese. We asked our business proposals to these tour-operating companies, and seven companies decided to work with us. They are strong in arranging trips to Southeast Asia as well as North America and Latin America.

Our readers may wonder why they are focused on business travel, since there is no big difference in the booking process from that for sightseeing trips. According to Hosotani, business travelers can fix their plans after making two interactions with a tour operator, while sightseeing trip users need to interact ten times on average. Besides that, people’s needs are more diversified in sightseeing trips. The Border team decided to focus on business travel needs, which is easier to simplify and standardize the entire trip arrangement process.

Similarly to Designclue, a crowdsourced logo design order service by Tokyo-based startup PurpleCow, by standardizing the format of work flows, startups can develop an online platform that allows customers to make orders in Japanese, but allows non-Japanese crowdsourced workers to receive orders in their language. If any foreign tour operator outside Japan deals with orders from Japanese customers through the Border platform, Japan’s Travel Agency Act would not be applied to these transactions, which helps non-Japanese tour operating companies more likely to take part in the platform in the future.

Big companies typically request business travel arrangements to their long-familiar travel agencies. While the annual market size of overseas business travels from Japan is estimated 1 trillion yen ($8.4 million), the need for trips to the Asian region alone can account for 667 million yen ($5.6 million). So the Border team is planning to focus on serving SMEs and startups in need of business travel to Asian destinations.

Border founder Tomoki Hosotani previously worked for the Japan Research Institute, a top Japanese think tank, followed by attending UCLA for his MBA. He has launched a business in the US, but closed it to focus on launching a new startup in Japan. Investors include an unnamed former executive from a Japanese travel agency, which suggests they are serious about disrupting the Japanese travel agency industry.

The Border team established an owned media offering information around international conferences and business travels, aiming to better reach potential customers. They aim to strengthen their promotional efforts in collaboration with other services operators such as taxi hailing apps.

Border founder and CEO Tomoki Hosotani

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and Kurt Hanson