They say necessity is the mother of invention, and as the head of a tour company that relies on steady international traffic, Hisae Yanagisawa had to get creative to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Until March, our main customers were tourists coming from Japan, but now we need to target other people, like people in the province, but we still want to provide tours for hiking and camping,” explained Yanagisawa, who has run in-bound tour operator, Japanada Enterprises, with her husband for the past 23 years.
With her business trickling to “almost zero” during the pandemic, Yanagisawa has had to pivot her business model—an effort that will be bolstered by a $10,000 national grant provided by the Canadian Business Resilience Network, in partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and software company Salesforce. Salesforce has also provided similar grants to businesses in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.
Japanada was one of 62 recipients selected from more than 1,100 small businesses across Canada that applied. Recipients were those that best demonstrated the financial strain they’ve experienced and how the company will use the grant to innovate during COVID-19, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
“[Yanagisawa] is one of these chamber members that just lets us do our work,” said Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace. “She understands the significance of a chamber, so I thought this whole story is super cool. To be one of 62 businesses across all of Canada, I was really excited to see what she got out of that.”
In operation since 1987, Japanada handles roughly 5,000 clients a year, arranging guided ski trips, hiking and camping tours, accommodation and language interpreters. Now, Yanagisawa said the company would ramp up its marketing efforts to regional and provincial guests—Japanese or otherwise—as well as expanding the selection of products available for sale in its retail shop, and offering a new baggage storage service.
“We have an office space in the Westin and we used to use it as a tour desk, but now we are putting more weight on the retail and hoping to carry artworks by local artists,” she said, adding that the store will also expand its inventory of camping gear.
While acknowledging the challenges that still lie ahead, Yanagisawa said there continues to be strong demand from the Japanese market to visit Whistler.
“We’ve been having inquiries for the winter and even the summer,” she said. “We have a big school student group come year after year so we are getting those inquiries but they’re just waiting for the border [to reopen].”
Along with the much-needed financial boost the $10,000 grant provides, Yanagisawa is also grateful for the show of support it symbolizes.
“We are really thankful to be selected for this grant,” she said. “It definitely helps to make the changes that we need to right now, but it doesn’t only mean financial support. It means the kindness of others and encouragement to me, and that means a lot.”
Japanada is located in the Shops at the Westin, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit japanada.com for more information.