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Okinawa solar firm eyes new revenue by converting vacant house into lodging for overseas tourists

The Okinawa Times

A solar power generation firm based in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, is pursuing a new line of business, tapping into a renovated vacant house as an inn for foreign visitors, especially large families.

Kingdom Solar Co., which sells solar power systems, hopes tourism can be a viable source of revenue, at a time when renewable energy policies are under a rethink and the brakes are being put on the expansion of the solar energy market.

Its first inn is expected to open in Naha in December, with expected annual sales of ¥20 million ($176,000).

Kingdom Solar has been engaged in the import and sale of solar panels manufactured in China. But in recent years, its sales have dropped to around one-fifth of the peak three years ago due to reduced demand as the government cut the purchase price for solar power.

Drawing on his earlier experience of living abroad and working in the travel and trade industry, Kingdom Solar’s president, Etsuo Moriyama, is looking into the potential of the tourism business for foreign travelers. The China-born Moriyama had lived in the United States and the Philippines, among other areas.

As tourists visiting Okinawa are on the rise, the availability of lodgings isn’t keeping up with growing demand. The prefectural government estimates a shortage of about 8,500 rooms a day, which prompted Moriyama to come up with a hotel plan especially for foreign travelers.

Moriyama also zeroed in on the rising rate of vacant homes in Okinawa.

According to internal affairs ministry data on housing and land, the rate of abandoned houses in Okinawa in 2013 stood at 10.4 percent, double the figure in 1973, a year after Okinawa reverted from U.S. military occupation to Japanese control.

Instead of building a new hotel from scratch, which would entail a large initial investment partly due to rising construction costs, he decided to renovate vacant homes.

The envisaged inn will occupy a three-story structure with a floor space of 240 sq. meters. Set to accommodate only three groups per day, the plan is to equip the place with kitchen and allow up to 12 people to stay in the same unit.

As one of the firm’s strategies to distinguish itself from other hoteliers, the inn will aim to meet the needs of visitors from Asia, traveling in large families to Okinawa. It also plans to create a worship area for Muslims.

To attract more customers, it will offer multilingual online content.

Masashi Takashiho, the firm’s managing director, believes there is strong demand for larger groups to stay in the same room.

“Many of the hotels in Okinawa can accommodate at most, two to three to a room. Big families thus have to stay in separate rooms,” he said.

After the first inn’s operations get on track, the company aims to launch three hotels in a year mainly in Naha, according to Takashiho.

This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major daily in the prefecture. The original article was published on Oct. 27.