Kansai Scene Magazine


A yen for travel

Noreen Bobis finds that she can indulge her passion for travel and make her way around the world by working as a travel agent.

As a student in the Philippines Noreen Bobis dreamed of seeing the world by flying the friendly skies as a flight attendant.

"Going around the world for free … that's good," she says.

A height regulation for airline stewardesses cut her initial plans for world travel short. Yet ten years later by trading in a cramped fold-down seat on a 747 for a cushy office chair in Motomachi there are precious few places on Earth Bobis hasn't been to by working as a travel agent.

Currently the manager of No.1 Travel's Kobe branch, Bobis shares her love for travel and adventure with her clients every Monday through Saturday while helping them find accommodations that won't leave their wallets stranded.

The hardest part of her job, she says, is recommending a place to go.

"All the countries that I've been to … I really love all of them," she says.

Under Bobis’ command, the Kobe No.1 branch travel makes travel arrangements for 25 individual cases a day on average. Sixty percent of those cases are people foreign to Japan many of whom are hoping to take a break from teaching by recharging in their home countries with their families or hitting tropical beaches for some R&R in Asia.

"Right now is peak season," Bobis said. "Many clients are headed for Thailand, The Philippines or Guam."

To accommodate an international clientele, No.1 travel has multilingual staff on hand every day. The Osaka branch has staff speaking English, Chinese, Korean, Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Japanese while the Kobe branch offers services in Tagalog in addition to English and Japanese.

Bobis speaks all three of the languages offered at the Kobe branch thanks to diligently studying Japanese after moving here from the Philippines. Her quest to get fluent was not without frustration however. Despite excelling in her Japanese language classes early on, she often found herself unable to understand or express certain ideas.

"I think the key is to have as many Japan- ese friends and people around you and speaking Nihongo as possible," she said.

"It does not matter how much you go to Japanese language classes and how well you do there. It's best is to do both."

In addition to securing seats B through D of row 25 on a flight 108 to New York, Bobis and her staff manage everything from hotel accommodations to explaining which direction the Motomachi JR station is for their clients; all in their own languages.

"If they're looking for tickets for the Shinkansen or other things that are not related to their reservation with No.1 Travel, we help them with too," she said.

Ever ambitious, Bobis one day hopes to continue working as a travel agent outside of Japan at one of the 70 agency branches of No.1 Travel's parent company Highest International Standards. Despite enjoying her current job, she said the lure of adventure and the chance to meet new people is too much for this world traveler to ignore. Besides, a little more world experience would certainly help Bobis offer better advice to her clients.

"Right now, we are helping customers with their travel needs and we are playing a small part in opening their eyes to the wonders of the world. Over there, I will be able to assist and help them more."

For now, Bobis is dreaming about her own travel plans.

This summer she intends to head for Italy, Spain and Tel Aviv. It would seem her staff has the travel bug as well.

"He's going to Saipan in the summer," Bobis said, nodding to the assistant manager furiously typing away at his desk behind her, "or Bali. I saw him checking earlier."

Text & photos: Jonathan McNamara

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Getting there:

The Kobe branch of No.1 Travel is located on the 4th floor of the Hayashi building just across Koikawasuji from the JR Motomachi station. The Osaka branch, which offers services in additional languages, is located on the 2nd floor of the Higashi building at the corner of Shinmidosuji Ave and Ogimachi Dori.