If you can’t beat them, join them.
That is exactly what a Tokyo hotel plans to do by agreeing to work with the operators of budding Airbnb-styled Japanese home-share accommodations called minpaku.
In the partnership, Hotel Suehiro in Ota Ward, Tokyo, has started performing check-in, check-out and front desk services for guests of minpaku, which are currently permitted in limited areas across Japan but will become more widespread in June when a new law comes into force.
So despite helping a local rival’s business, Hotel Suehiro is reaping manifold benefits, such as getting more customers to use its spa.
“There are many foreign travelers who wish to share a single room as part of a large group,” said a representative of minpaku operator Hyakusenrenma Inc., which provides about 20 private rooms in the area around Hotel Suehiro.
“One option to meet the demand is that hotels operate minpaku businesses in their neighborhood and let large groups stay in rooms provided,” the official said.
Ota Ward is one of a number of special government-designated areas where property owners have been permitted since January 2016 to offer accommodations to tourists for profit.
When the law takes effect in June, authorized property owners will be able to rent vacant homes or rooms to tourists for up to 180 days per year.
With the current tourism boom bringing a record number of foreign visitors, hotels in large cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka have seen room shortages, contributing to a spike in businesses offering private lodging.
The identity of guests must be confirmed in person, according to guidelines for the specially designated minpaku areas.
Front-desk clerks at Hotel Suehiro check passports and provide room keys to minpaku guests staying nearby. Customers checking in or out will often pay for services offered by the hotel as well, making it a win-win arrangement.
Hotel Suehiro President Mitsuharu Nishizawa, 48, was initially an opponent of minpaku, due partly to safety concerns as some unscrupulous operators failed to obtain approval from municipal authorities.
In such cases, customers may be unaware of who is running the minpaku and whether rooms are adequately equipped to protect against hazards such as fires.
“It’s dangerous when you don’t know the actual state of things,” Nishizawa said.
At the same time, he acknowledged that people are becoming more tolerant to a wider range of accommodation types. Women, for example, are increasingly using capsule hotels, with some providing female-focused services. More people are also staying overnight in internet cafes, which provide showers.
Nishizawa said that he came to understand that meeting the increased tourist demand by running minpaku out of Japan’s growing number of vacant homes is a change that suits the times. Not only that, but hotels and Japanese-style inns can take advantage of the new business opportunity, he said.
He believes having local hotels confirm the identities of minpaku guests also contributes to improved safety for residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, and for building owners.
Minpaku operator Hyakusenrenma, based in Sendai, is encouraged. The company is looking to expand similar arrangements in which hotels and inns near its properties provide services such as room key management and cleaning work.
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