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Jonathan Lucas (Shizuoka, 2016-2019), MICE Promotions Specialist & IGLTA 2024 Coordinator, Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau
Interview by Kimberly Matsuno (Niigata, 2019-2022)

As is tradition with every JET Program participant, we must ask the question: Why JET? Why Japan?

It was actually Japanese music that got me interested in Japan. I got really interested in Japanese music, listening to everything from classic rock to J-pop. My favorite artist is probably Utadu Hikaru—who was one of the first singer-songwriters to start incorporating English lyrics in her music and has some of the best-selling Japanese albums of all time. It was because of music I learned Japanese and then was inspired to study abroad in Japan and later become a JET.

Tell us about your current position with the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau.

I actually have two roles here with the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau. My main role is as a Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions (MICE) Promotions Specialist. Basically, my goal is to promote Osaka as an ideal location for meetings, conventions, and large business events. 

Events are huge for a city. One 1,000-person convention equates to nearly the same number of hotel reservations, people eating at local restaurants, utilizing local transportation, and spending money on local businesses. So I work to promote Osaka as an event-friendly destination and talk to organizations to see how Osaka can meet their needs for their next event.

My other role is as the IGLTA 2024 Coordinator. Asia’s first-ever IGLTA (International LGBTQ+ Travel Association) Annual Global Convention is coming to Osaka in October 2024. We did a lot of lobbying to get the IGLTA to come here. This involved going overseas to talk to IGLTA members to see what their needs and concerns were and promoting Osaka as the LGBTQ+ friendly location that it is. 

But we don’t just talk the talk, we also walk the walk. Behind the scenes, we are also talking to hotels, businesses, and local agencies about best practices and how to be more LGBTQ+ friendly and develop an even more welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ travelers. For example, we began offering training to hotels and their staff, which upon completion will list their hotel as an LGBTQ+ friendly location on our website.

What does your typical day look like?

It feels so cliche to say “there is no typical day,” but . . . there is no typical day. I probably spend half of my time in the office and half of it outside of the office. Like many jobs, emails, paperwork, and red tape can’t be escaped. But I also get to spend time doing things like site inspections, meetings with hotels, and meeting other partners in tourism. I’d say my job is a good balance of independent tasks in the office and meeting with people outside of the office.

What would you say to people who might be afraid to get into the tourism industry—especially in Japan because they feel it is “oversaturated?”

As someone working in tourism, I don’t think that’s true at all. There are always new hotels opening, new companies starting tours, and new initiatives local governments undertake. So, I think there are plenty of opportunities available.

And, while I work in the business/events side of tourism, it’s important to note that there are so many other types of roles available in the industry. As a quick example, any city in the world is going to have a DMO (destination marketing organization) to promote the region. Within the Osaka DMO we have staff working on general tourism, study-educational tourism, leisure tourism, business tourism, and more. There are also staff working on web design and data analytics. 

And this doesn’t even include tour companies or hotels—which are always looking to hire people with foreign language abilities. So there are plenty of avenues for those interested in tourism.

Do you need a degree in hospitality/tourism to work in the tourism industry?

Absolutely not. I have a physics degree—which I do not use at all.

I think the JET Program itself is a great example of people without tourism backgrounds working in the industry. But I will say a hospitality degree might get you further quickly.

Flexibility is probably the most important skill to have when it comes to working in tourism. You need to have a desire to learn and adapt. Trends are always changing in the industry, and what worked a year or two ago may not be the best option now. At the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau, we are always looking at trends and trying to get ahead of the competition. So on top of being flexible, tourism also requires you to be proactive in your learning. Also, people skills are super important in this field. 

What are some interesting trends you see going on right now in the tourism industry in Japan (or internationally)?

One word: Sustainability.

Japan is all about the SDGs. But outside of Japan, no one really knows what Sustainable Development Goals are. However, around the world, there is a general emphasis on sustainability—though the outlook and interpretation of sustainability tend to constantly be evolving.

For example, one aspect of sustainable tourism is the prevention of “over tourism” and not putting too much of a strain on local services. This isn’t a problem Osaka is facing at the moment, but we are constantly looking at Kyoto and investigating how to promote regional travel while minimizing stresses on local infrastructures.

How has being a part of the JET alumni community helped you?

It has been a surprisingly significant part of my career. I am always meeting JET alumni at work and there are JET alums at tourism bureaus across the country. 

It is such a helpful first connection with people when it comes to getting to know someone but also when it comes to professional partnerships. I am always surprising my bosses, and myself for that matter, when I have JET connections working in hotels, tour companies, or other tourism bureaus that we are looking to work with.

Do you have any advice for JETs who wish to work in tourism?

Network. Network. Network.

I know, I always rolled my eyes when I heard answers like that before. I used to think “I don’t like networking, and I’m not good at it.”

But it doesn’t need to be this big complicated thing. Just to go to an event and talk to someone new. You don’t need to go and hand out business cards to everyone. You can take it slow and get to know one person at a time.

Also, it’s important to learn about the industry. Learn about your local area, and be able to explain to someone what makes it great. Look at local trends, and see what hotels are opening. Look at your local tourism bureau, and see what they are doing and what events are coming up. A good grasp of the tourism scene around you will make you an invaluable asset to any team.

Do you know of any resources, networking communities, or job boards to look for jobs and opportunities in the tourism industry?

First, it’s important to know what type of company you would like to work for. Would you prefer to work for a tour company—organizing or leading tours, a local tourism bureau—promoting a region, or a hotel—interacting with international guests? 

There are a lot of opportunities on LinkedIn, specifically for hotels. I’d say for anyone who’s not on LinkedIn yet, you should really create an account. It’s a great platform for networking and finding upcoming opportunities.

Final question. . . . What is one location/activity in Osaka that you think is highly underrated?

Osaka is loved by so many for its food culture, nightlife, how it’s LGBTQ+ friendly, and its art culture. But I think the history here is pretty underrated. It was the first capital of Japan. The ruins of the very first palace are right next to Osaka Castle. The castle itself is the site of the unification of Japan. Osaka was a city of trade and commerce—it is where dashi was born and kabuki flourished. It’s always been a place where people from regions near and far gather, and I’m so honored to be able to promote the city every day.

Jonathan is from Virginia, USA where he graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in physics. After working for a short time in federal government marketing, he joined the JET Program for 3 years where he taught Science Communication English as an ALT at a municipal high school in Shizuoka. After the JET Program, Jonathan joined the Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau where he currently works in MICE (a.k.a. business events tourism) as well as LGBTQ+ tourism. Jonathan is also a co-chair of the Western Japan branch of the JET Alumni Association (JETAAWJ). You can get in touch with Jonathan from his LinkedIn profile.