Soon after writing my last article, I realised that I had kind of put the cart before the horse by talking about the Prince Hotel loyalty program without explaining Prince Hotels. While they are kind of ubiquitous in Japan, the chain has lost most of its footprint overseas, to the point that many people have never even heard of this chain.
During the US occupation following World War II, much of Japanese royalty were stripped of their titles and subjected to enormous taxation, to the point where they could not longer afford the vast tracts of land that they owned. Yasujirō Tsutsumi, the CEO of Kokudo Corporation that ran the Seibu Railway system, swooped in to purchase these distressed properties in prime locations at bargain basement prices to build hotels that he figured would lend to synergy with the railway. The first hotel that opened, what is now known as the Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa, is literally on the grounds of the former Prince Takeda, of the tenth branch of the Japanese Imperial Family. Hence the name “Prince” Hotels, and hence the reason why this chain has large swaths of prime real estate to work with in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Tsutsumi ran a rather shady organization that used many shady tactics to rapidly expand throughout Japan over the following decades, but the financial crash of the 90′s started a chain reaction that ultimately led to Tsutsumi’s son’s arrest on securities fraud, and the delisting of Prince Hotel’s parent company from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2005. Soon after, the company was forced to sell or close nearly 40 properties to keep from going under. In the ensuing chaos, the Prince Hotels Company was split off, and this is the entity that runs all Prince Hotel properties today.
Finally able to focus strictly on hotel issues, Prince Hotels Company started paying attention to its branding, restructuring its hotels into three distinct brands:
- Prince Hotels: The main brand. If comparing to Hyatt, these would be closest to a Hyatt Regency
- Grand Prince Hotels: The “city” hotel brand. These would be likened to a Grand Hyatt
- “The Prince” Hotels: “The Prince” is the luxury brand of Prince Hotels.
Additionally, last year “The Prince Gallery” Tokyo Kiocho (also an SPG affiliated hotel) opened in place of the old Akasaka Prince Hotel, so “Prince Gallery” may become a fourth, ultra-luxury brand going forward, which would be more like a Park Hyatt (I don’t know what to liken “The Prince” properties to…Park Hyatt Junior?)
They also changed its limited “point card” system into a full-fledged loyalty program a few years ago. It was actually quite poor when it was introduced, but it has gradually improved over the years (Example: this year the Platinum breakfast benefit was expanded from once per stay to all nights of a stay), to the point where it was worth my time and money to obtain this status for next year.
From my vantage point, there are two reasons to focus on Prince Hotels in Japan: footprint and service. There are Prince Hotels in over 25 cities and areas throughout Japan, meaning that you will find Prince Hotels in places where no international chains dare to venture (Furano, Shizukuishi, Tsumagoi), or options that are far superior than any international chain has to offer (Karuizawa, Hakone, Nagoya)
As for the service…I’ve yet to find a good way to articulate it. To me, Prince Hotels come closest to the “spirit” of Japan, and in recent years, they have done a lot of work to bring their hard product in line with their soft product. They’re not necessarily “better” than a Hyatt, or “worse” than a Hyatt, but the feeling of these places are closer in sync to the feelings that caused me to fall in love with this country many years ago. Hopefully the year to come will bring me opportunities to expand on this topic and express it in a manner it deserves to be expressed in.