• Kyodo

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The Osaka Municipal Assembly had voted down a plan to allow property owners to open up vacant condominiums and apartments to lodge visitors — an idea based on a central government deregulation drive and aimed at meeting the growing number of foreign visitors to the city.

An assembly committee rejected a bill proposed by the municipal government, with support for the legislation coming only from Osaka Ishin-no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association), a local chapter of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which is co-led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Osaka Prefectural Assembly. Given that the Hashimoto-led group doesn’t have a majority there either, the idea appears doomed to fail.

A Liberal Democratic Party member of the municipal assembly’s urban economic committee expressed concern about the lack of reception desks at the envisaged facilities. “It could be a hotbed for criminal activities,” this assembly member said.

“If you start raising safety issues, no ideas for deregulation will move forward, no matter what,” Hashimoto told reporters at City Hall ahead of the committee vote, hoping to sway reluctant assembly members to vote for the plan.

The Osaka Prefectural Government said no other local governments have committed themselves to writing necessary legislation to allow for the new form of accommodations for visitors planning to stay seven days or longer.

While the step is aimed at accommodating the rising number of foreign travelers, Japanese people would also be allowed to stay. The city of Osaka was planning to inaugurate the new facilities by the end of this year. Some real estate companies have shown interest, according to local officials.

Last year, around 2.6 million foreign travelers visited Osaka Prefecture, up around 30 percent from a year earlier. The tally is expected to top 3 million this year.

Osaka hotels experienced around 80 percent occupancy on average last year with rooms close to being sold out on weekends.

The municipal and prefectural governments came up with the idea by taking advantage of one of the deregulatory initiatives under the National Strategic Special Zones program touted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration as a way to reboot the economy.

The inns and hotels law requires accommodation providers to set up a reception desk and regulates guest room sizes.

Subject to local regulatory measures, the deregulation initiative in the special zone would open up vacant condos and apartments for accommodation if each room is at least 25 sq. meters and foreign-language instructions about the facilities are posted.

Since a front desk would not be required, providers offer lower rates than comparable hotel rooms.

Critics say that opening vacant rooms to tourists could draw opposition from nearby residents. Security measures and evacuation plans in time of a disaster could also pose problems.

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