Business

Short-term rentals can help promote rural tourism, but few are willing to open their doors

by Shigehiko Hamaya

Kyodo

Amid an influx of tourists from home and abroad in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, local governments are trying to persuade homeowners unwilling to put up with strangers to open their doors.

In August, the city of Tokushima in Shikoku, where the annual Awa Odori dance festival is held, hired Pasona Corp. to promote minpaku (private lodging) operations to local landlords. A supervisor from the recruiting services company appeared on local TV programs and used other methods to advertise the idea.

This year, 1.23 million people gathered to see the Awa Odori festival over four days. But there was only enough room to accommodate about 6,000 people at hotels, Japanese-style lodgings and other boarding facilities in the city.

Despite the effort to appeal to landlords, however, there were just 36 homeowners who responded, with only 26 private homes meeting the floor space requirements, fire prevention measures and other conditions. Just 275 domestic and overseas travelers were accepted into the 26 households.

Yukio Shintani, 69, who until two years ago operated a coffee shop from his home, invited a newlywed French couple and their three friends to stay.

He took the group on guided tours of the coast in his car in the daytime before his wife, Tamiko, 68, helped them get dressed in yukata (casual kimono) ahead of the festival.

“Conversation was a little bit tough going, but using a translation app on my smartphone helped,” Shintani said with a laugh.

Hyakusenrenma, a Sendai-based company that operates a minpaku website in cooperation with municipalities in Goshogawara, Aomori Prefecture, Okinawa and other cities, has held nine recruitment events thus far with limited results. Only around a dozen landlords have supplied vacant rooms.

“There are people who worry about trouble with guests but realize this isn’t difficult once they experience it. We want to work steadily toward achieving results,” said Yoshiko Ito, who handles the company’s minpaku business.

The government has set a target of welcoming 40 million foreign visitors in 2020 and 60 million in 2030. A law is slated to come into effect within a year from June to allow private homes to be rented out to tourists.

Reports have emerged, however, of trouble between guests and neighboring residents over noise and garbage disposal.

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