National

Japan hotels group calls for more restrictions on Airbnb-style operations

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

An industry group representing ryokan inns and hotels nationwide has called for bigger restrictions on minpaku short-stay accommodation amid growing concerns over its popularity.

At a meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday attended by some 1,000 lodging operators, the All Japan Ryokan Hotel Association renewed its resolve to stop the practice, which it says is spreading quickly among Japanese homeowners.

Minpaku is the term coined for renting rooms in private houses as cheap accommodation, usually through a lodging website such as Airbnb.

“There must be fair competition among the operators of private lodgings that are easily licensed and those of inns and hotels that require an actual business permit,” said association Chairman Shigeki Kitahara.

Founded in 1957, the industry group boasts 20,000 member inns and hotels nationwide.

The association’s goals include:

Minpaku private accommodations should be allowed to operate for a maximum of 30 days a year.

Minpaku operators should be registered as business entities.

The crackdown on illegal minpaku operators should be strengthened.

Regulations of minpaku should be modeled after those of inns and hotels in line with the Building Standards Law. This requires, for example, operators to install a certain number of emergency exits in case of fire.

The outcry came after the Cabinet decided last Thursday that private lodges can operate up to 180 days a year.

“Operating private lodges for 180 days sounds to me like a legitimate ‘business,’ ” Kitahara said. “We are running our businesses every day, promising the safety of the guests through careful preparation and investing in facilities. Operators of private lodges should also be as responsible about renting their rooms.”

Private lodging gained traction in Japan after the popular Airbnb website launched in 2014. It currently has more than 20,000 registered dwellings, and was used by over 500,000 guests in the 12 months through July 2014.

Among the government’s reasons for welcoming the service is its goal to accommodate the 20 million tourists it expects to visit Japan annually by the time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

In April, the law on inns and hotels was deregulated, making it easier for individuals to obtain a license to start up a minpaku-style business. Such businesses are now operated in Tokyo’s Ota Ward and most places in Osaka Prefecture, which were chosen as special economic zones, with some conditions attached.

Although the government is asking municipalities to revise ordinances that interfere with the private lodging business, some cities, including Kyoto, remain reluctant.

Kyoto, the country’s ancient capital and a popular tourist destination, said about 90 percent of private lodgings there were operated illegally in 2015. Issues included operators renting rooms to more than the permitted number of guests, causing many neighborhood problems such as noise complaints and fire accidents.