PBClub has a found a comfortable in niche in B&Bs, not B2B.

Back to Contents of Issue: May 2000

by Steve Mollman

B2B is the Internet's white hot sector of the moment, but Japanese startup PBClub has found a warm and cozy niche in B&B. Through its site at http://www.pbclub.com, the company delivers Japanese tourists to the doors of bed-and-breakfasts in North America. "Thanks to the Internet, B&Bs are gaining popularity among more seasoned travelers," says cofounder Jeff Aasgaard. "We want to open this wonderful world up to Japanese travelers."

PBClub earns revenue by charging innkeepers to list their information on the site, which is targeted at Japanese tourists planning their overseas trips. The company also charges to translate the information into Japanese, and more revenue is generated from ads on the site. It also has exclusive rights to offer discount cards from Go-Direct Travel in Japan.

The idea came from cofounder Lester Patrick's Japanese wife Atsuko, who had stayed at B&Bs when she lived in Canada. Aasgaard and Patrick, who met as members of the International Business Association, figured that if B&Bs appealed to her, they'd appeal to other Japanese as well. "Hotels are easy to find and reserve, but a tourist can get so much more by staying at a B&B," says Aasgaard. "Most innkeepers are very friendly and helpful. This kindness comes from the heart and is not packaged."

Aasgaard says the site, which launched in April 1999, so far has about 60 B&Bs listed and gets about 400 unique visitors a week. He says most users are young Japanese women looking for something different. "We're also hoping to attract businesspeople interested in a short-term home stay, and seniors who can't handle the pace of packaged tours," he says.

PBClub plans to offer a similar service for English-speaking travelers coming to Japan, offering information on minshuku, ryokan, and pensions. But first the company needs funding, which it recently applied for at Garage.com. "The application process was a good exercise because it helped us focus in on how we should build a network and generate a cash flow," says Patrick. "It forced us to address a lot of hard questions and problems we'd been putting on the back burner."

The company came to our attention through a letter to the editor about a networking event (see page 2 of the May issue of Japaninc Magazine). Funny how networking can lead to unexpected returns.

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