Privacy vs. Omotenashi

If you’re the owner of a Japanese inn, how do you express hospitality from even before your guests arrive? For many traditional inns, the answer lies in a welcome signboard. Having the customer’s name displayed out front, letting them know they’re welcome and in the right place, is a long-held tradition. That said, in this privacy-minded age, is it the right one to use? Let’s explore this issue and what it means for overseas guests.

Like for Japanese guests, views on privacy overseas vary person-to-person, although it can generally be said that people from Europe take a stronger view on the subject then those from America. For some, a welcome signboard with their name on it is a standout service and a unique experience, while others might feel a little creeped out. Therefore, the best way to handle this is to, first of all, is to inform the guests that you do this so that there are no unpleasant surprises. A simple notice on the booking page or hotel website in English is often enough.

Even better then informing though, is asking. Taking the time to ask your incoming guests, at the time of their booking, “May we display your name on our welcome signboard?”, shows that you’re both hospitable and mindful of their privacy preferences. It’s a win-win situation.

What are other privacy issues related to a guest’s name? Again, it might be wise to ask a guest if it is alright to use their name to identify their table or room. Some guests may be uncomfortable with others in the hotel knowing their names, so using the room number or room name when indicating table or room assignments is an appropriate substitute. Finally, some privacy minded guests may wonder how you will use their information in the future. For example, how long will you keep their information? Will you use their information to send them mail? Will you sell the information to others? Formulating a privacy policy in Japanese, and then having it translated into English for use in the guest rooms, might not be a bad idea.

In summary, showing your guests that you are mindful of their privacy is a far better way to show hospitality than to write their names out front.

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