Last Update : 2013.10.30 16:27
Hiroshi Imai contemplates the future of Jeju’s customer satisfactionAn interview with former Vice President of Toyota Motors
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승인 2009.11.26  14:27:11
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Former Vice President of Sales Coordination Department of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Incorporated, Hiroshi Imai has a lot of experience when it comes to sales and discusses possible solutions to not only attract investors to Jeju, but keep them there. Photos by Kim Gyong Ho

“Jeju is good, it’s great. Beautiful fresh air, nice water, beautiful scenery,” said Hiroshi Imai as he sipped his green tea and described how Jeju Island managed to capture his heart. Jeju Island is unquestionably a paradise with its alluring, scenic coasts, breath-taking terrain, and its abundance of delicious tangerines. Imai does not hesitate in saying that he prefers his home in Seogwipo, to any place in Seoul.

“There is no residential area in Seoul. The residential area, business area, and commerce area is mixed together. In Seogwipo, the residential area is separated from the businesses. While there are historical, attractive sites in Seoul, the environment is not beautiful. By no means, it’s not a beautiful place.”

What Imai loves most about Jeju Island is the lack of pollution. Having lived in densely populated areas, such as Tokyo and Los Angeles, Imai knows how pollution can affect the quality of life; “Both Tokyo and Los Angeles are dusty places, especially Tokyo. Even if the window is closed, you will have dust. Here, the air comes from the Oceanside. Between here and the beach, there are trees and houses. Here in Seogwipo, there is no pollution or dust. Also, our water here is well water. It’s really nice; they say that it’s better than Sam Da Soo bottled water,” Imai smirks as if he has a crush on a new lover. It’s apparent that Jeju’s organic charm has enchanted his heart as it has done to so many others.

Imai is the retired Vice President of the Sales Coordination Department of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Incorporated. From November of 1966, until June of 1988, Imai worked exclusively for Toyota Motor Sale USA. After ending his employment with the company, Imai became the Corporate Advisor of Sales, Marketing and Logistics for Samsung Motor Company Limited, in Seoul from 1996 to 1998. It was during his brief 2 year stay in Seoul that Imai realized his distaste for big, congested cities. Instead, he desired to live in a peaceful, serene environment—the kind of environment that only a paradise island like Jeju can offer.

“My wife and I decided to build a house here after we found the perfect place in Seogwipo.” According to him, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, Jeju’s beauty is not known by many throughout the world. Few have heard of Halla Mountain, the 500 Generals Oreum, or the Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls. “Jeju is not yet an internationally recognized island and it won’t be for awhile.”


When asked what Jeju should do in order to achieve this goal, Imai stressed the importance of customer service, specifically catering to the needs of foreign tourists; “Japan has made changes in order to make tourists happy. Hawaii consists of an entire population of hosts to tourists. But Jeju, Jeju is different. It is not as inviting.”

With his extensive background in customer service, Jeju would be wise to heed his advice. Imai believes that Jeju needs to establish a personal relationship with the international community. Workers should be trained to be hosts that take care of their foreign tourists. However, the reality is that many people of Jeju lack this service-oriented mindset. At one point in time Imai ran a Hawaiian goods and souvenir shop called “Blue Hawaii.” However, after only 2 and a-half years of business, he was forced to close it down.

“From the beginning until the end, my wife and I had trouble recruiting employees. We could not find anyone who was willing to work in our service store, so we had to do it ourselves. Somehow, South Korean people don’t like service jobs. They don’t like being salesmen. When I worked for Toyota, everybody was required to have experience as a salesman. I hated it, but I learned how to do it. My wife and I thought there would be some people on Jeju Island who would be willing to do it, but no one was.”

In addition to a lack of service, said Imai, Jeju also falters in encouraging visitors to stay; “The Jeju government has tried to invite foreign companies and investors to reside on the island, but I have yet to see that happen. I haven’t seen anyone come to live here permanently like my wife and I have done. There may be many English language teachers working on the island, but their lifestyle is temporary. Visitors stay for a short duration and then leave. Also, it’s not easy to become a permanent resident or to build a house here—that’s why the island is relatively ‘untouched.’ Jeju cannot become internationally recognized if this doesn’t change.”

Just as in running a successful business, Imai understands that the fate of Jeju Island’s international popularity lies in its customer relations. Every tourist is a customer, and if a customer is not happy, it is up to the business to find out why and then to use the resources at hand to solve the problem.

“This kind of thinking comes from long years of experience, not training,” Imai said. “Customer satisfaction is priority.” For a long time, Imai lobbied for the development of an ecological-friendly tourist attraction to the Jeju government, which finally resulted in the creation of the Olle Walking Tours scattered across the island.

“With the Olle Walking Tours, people can now actively embrace the terrain and the fresh air, instead of visiting museums devoted to teddy bears.”

Nevertheless, the popularity of Jeju is growing, albeit slowly. Foreigners are learning about the convenience offered by supermarkets such as E-mart and Home Plus to purchase familiar goods they have back at home. Also, the increase of high-quality English publications affords foreigners the ability to connect with the native Jeju people. Hiroshi Imai predicts that change is inevitable and, according to him, “Change is good.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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