National / Crime & Legal

Airbnb’s Japan unit denies violating antitrust laws after raid by FTC in October

by Alex Martin

Staff Writer

Airbnb Inc.’s Japan arm said Friday it was raided by authorities last month on suspicion of violating antitrust laws, but denied any wrongdoing.

Domestic media outlets had reported earlier that the company was suspected of asking property management agencies to refrain from dealing with other home-sharing platforms.

“Airbnb Japan received an on-site inspection by the Fair Trade Commission and we are cooperating with the commission’s ongoing investigation,” Airbnb Japan said in a statement. It said the company was the subject of an inspection that took place on Oct. 5, but added that the allegations suggested in media reports were groundless.

“Airbnb does not require hosts or partners in Japan to list properties exclusively with Airbnb,” it said.

The San Francisco-based company lists approximately 4 million properties in over 190 countries. In Japan alone Airbnb lists over 56,000 properties, and is by far the largest such provider in the nation.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported Friday that antitrust authorities suspected Airbnb Japan had asked management agencies — which on behalf of hosts take care of the various tasks involved in listing properties, like housecleaning and exchanging emails with guests — to refrain from dealing with other vacation rental sites.

If the investigation finds that Airbnb partook in actions that diminished the business opportunities of rival companies or discouraged newcomers from entering the market, that would be a violation of antitrust laws and the company could be subjected to disciplinary action.

The news comes amid intensifying competition in the home-sharing market, with a roster of new players having announced their entry following the government’s passing of a law in June that gives the green light to short-term private minpaku (private lodging) services.

While Japan has no laws specifically outlawing such services, the Hotel Business Law sets out conditions few private homes can meet. That means services like Airbnb are often operating in a legal gray zone.

An official at the FTC declined to comment on individual cases, but said there were 11 instances last year where the commission imposed administrative disciplinary action.

Keiichi Ishii, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, said he will closely observe the case considering that the new minpaku law will take effect next year.

The bill will allow people to rent out property for a maximum of 180 nights a year if lodging providers register with local governments. Service platforms like Airbnb will be required to register with the tourism agency, which plans to create an online system to monitor the accommodation situation at all minpaku businesses.

“The tourism agency will conduct a fair and strict screening, taking this case into consideration, if Airbnb files an application based on the new law,” he said.

Japan is currently facing an accommodation crunch amid an unprecedented tourism boom. As of October the total number of foreign visitors entering the country reached 23.8 million, and their numbers are almost certain to surpass last year’s record 24 million visitors by the end of the year. The surge in travelers has seen demand for vacation rental services grow.

A survey by the Japan Tourism Agency conducted between July and September showed that 12.4 percent of visitors used private lodging services, compared to 75.1 percent that used hotels and 18.2 percent that used ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inns).

Tomoko Otake contributed to this article