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Follow Me Japan: A travel ambassador with a human touch

The travel agency aims to connect people from both countries through meaningful cultural exchange

'Money is not as important as trust. One should try to do something meaningful and make a difference in someone's life.' - Ven Nishimura, Follow Me Japan chairman

WHENEVER travel agency Follow Me Japan conducts seminars to inform upcoming tours in hotels, its chairman Ven Nishimura will be sure to give out his namecards to each and every new customer there. But he isn't doing that to drum up business volumes. Instead, he wants to reassure them that he is always there for them. He tells them: "If you are happy with us, please feel free to tell our staff. But if you encounter any problems during your trip, please call me. You have my number. I am accountable."

After that, he lets his staff take over the programme of the seminar. "I want to state my commitment as chief in charge before the seminar starts," he says. This is his promise to customers and to also share with his staff that they can have the same level of commitment.

Indeed, Mr Nishimura's commitment to making customers confident of his service has won him credibility in this long-standing business. Prime Group made S$70 million in sales last year, comprising of Prime Travel & Tour which is specialised in corporate travel, Prime Cruise Asia which is specialised in luxury cruises to worldwide destinations and Follow Me Japan which is catered for high-end consumer market specialised in Japan.

Mr Nishimura has also won numerous accolades, such as the Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Award last year for his contribution to the Japan-bound travel business for 35 years. In 2013, he was given the Outstanding Entrepreneurship Award during the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards.

Step into his office, and one sees more plaques and certificates, including one from the Hokkaido local government in Japan for introducing the Hokkaido market to non-Japanese tourists and also launching the first-ever revolutionary concept of Fly & Drive in Japan.

For Mr Nishimura, it all started as a dream to create something from scratch. Initially a sales manager for Singapore Airlines (SIA) in Japan, he came to Singapore in 1977 for a posting. "I was supposed to go back to Japan after my posting completed, but I chose to stay," he says.

In search of a new challenge, he pondered the idea of being a travel agent. After all, he knew the travel agencies through his SIA job. In those days, he recalls, Singapore was still very much an emerging market. Friends asked why he didn't choose to go back to Japan where travel is growing with dynamism. He stuck to his guns. "I wanted to pioneer something, something that will start from zero."

Despite the odds, numerous obstacles and with that dream, passion and gusto, Mr Nishimura started Prime Travel & Tour in 1979 and subsequently Prime Cruise Asia. In 2001, Follow Me Japan was birthed, as his daughter, Risa Nishimura, wanted to bring Singapore tourists to Japan to experience a land with not only great food and scenery but to immerse in its rich culture and traditions. Barriers started to break when Singaporeans no longer see Japan as a foreign land but as friends who can connect, share and mutually have meaningful exchange.

As the years go by, the travel industry faced another challenge. It was increasingly losing its human touch with the advent of e-tickets and online bookings, says Mr Nishimura. Yet, the father and daughter team wanted to continue what they started and that is to provide quality service with a human touch.

Follow Me Japan, though the youngest of the group, grew and gained popularity among its customers. This is in no small part due to the hard work of both father and daughter - neither has rested during weekends and public holidays for the past two decades.

Follow Me Japan's philosophy of "My Dream, My Journey" was deeply realised in one of his customer's life when she wanted to bring her elderly dying mother to see the flowers in Hokkaido. Despite her inability to afford the full fare, Mr Nishimura accepted her plea.

"Money is not as important as trust. Though I may not earn as much from her, I wanted to be there for her and her mother. That trust between us is priceless. One should try to do something meaningful and make a difference in someone's life."

An adversity is the new-normal today. Embracing changes, it is more important to see future where uncertainty is in all corners of our life.

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