French innkeepers share ‘minpaku’ woes with Japan hoteliers


Staff Writer

Operators of hotels and inns wary of the government’s plan to deregulate vacation rentals are saying in unison: Look at what happened in France.

Known as minpaku in Japanese, paid accommodations in private homes are considered key to alleviating the lodging shortage emerging from the tourism boom. But concerns over the trend prompted the industry last week to invite French business officials to Japan to share their experience with this relatively new type of accommodation.

France is the world’s top tourism destination and drew 83.7 million visitors in 2014. This spurred a drastic increase in private rental accommodations.

According to Groupement National des Independants, a French coalition of hotel associations, accommodations listed on the online Airbnb service stood at 200,000 in 2015, up from just 5,000 in 2010.

Laurent Duc, hotel division chief at the Union des Metiers et des Industries de l’Hotellerie, France’s largest trade association encompassing the cafe, hotel, restaurant and disco industries, said at a recent forum in Tokyo that the lack of regulations for this new industry is causing problems.

“In France, residential properties are not used for commercial purposes, but such properties are utilized for paid private stays,” Duc said through an interpreter. “It contributed to the decrease in the number of rental properties, which in turn caused rents to increase.”

Also, while hotels and inns provide safety and security for guests, minpaku accommodations don’t have to, Duc emphasized.

Franck Trouet, executive director of Synhorcat, a GNI member, agreed, pointing out that such lodgings can endanger the hosts as well.

“For example, there were cases that the housing was used for prostitution or orgies,” Trouet said through an interpreter. “Properties were destroyed or furniture stolen in some cases.”

This can prompt residents living next to such properties to complain, Trouet said.

Regarding security, Duc noted that hotels in France make it a rule to check the identity of international guests, a practice he said is not observed in vacation rentals. This, he said, allowed a terrorist involved in the deadly attacks in Paris in November to set up a base in the capital.

Trouet agreed, pointing out that anonymity prevails.

GNI President Didier Chenet said it’s important for those involved in minpaku services to stick to the established rules of the mainstream lodging industry.

“What we’d like to propose is to make it obligatory for them to follow the rules,” Chenet said, also via interpreter.

Shigeki Kitahara, chairman of the All Japan Ryokan Hotel Association, which helped organize the forum, said the group needs to urge those who want to rent their properties to raise their awareness of these problems.

He said the government needs to urgently address what kind of commitments and obligations should be imposed on minpaku providers.

The Japan National Tourism Organization says a record 19.73 million tourists visited Japan in 2015, up 47.1 percent from 2014. The government is shooting for 20 million a year by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics Games.

Under the Hotel Business Law, the use of private homes as tourist accommodations is illegal without a hotel license outside the government’s designated special economic zones.

Osaka Prefecture and Tokyo’s Ota Ward are two such zones and passed ordinances in October and December allowing home owners to rent rooms to foreign visitors.

To set guidelines for the minpaku business, the health ministry and the tourism agency jointly set up a panel in November that is to compile a report on the issue by the end of June.

  • GBR48

    I wondered how long it would take before the hotel lobby would accuse AirBnB guests of being potential terrorists as well as perverts, psychopaths, neighbours from hell and party animals.

    As a vegan, I’m only comfortable staying somewhere that I can cook a meal. My maximum stay in a hotel is one night, before or after flights, or on an overnight visit.

    Without minpaku accommodation, I would never have begun visiting Japan, and if there is a crackdown courtesy of lobbying by the hotel industry, my visits would have to end.

    Many other people also dislike hotels, and an increasing number are only now travelling courtesy of minpaku-style accommodation.

    If Japan wants to kiss goodbye to the largest growing sector of the tourist market through excessive regulation, then the brown envelope full of yen from the tourist lobby better be a really big one, because the impact upon tourism in Japan would be extensive, long term and very costly indeed.

    The income from minpaku-style lets is a fundamental part of the distributed, multi-stream income model that will become increasingly necessary to maintain wealth levels as low growth becomes the global norm.

    And in tourism, it is the new growth sector, trending across social media as the way to travel in the 21st century. Ban it, directly or by excessive regulation, and Japan will rapidly drop down the list of exotic, accessible tourist destinations.

    Tourism is competitive. Cracking down on minpaku would be like banning anything with one of those new-fangled internal combustion engines as a favour to the horse lobby.