OSAKA - Imagine a headline splashing out news of tourists being killed by a fire at an illegal short-term lodging facility during the Group of 20 leaders’ summit in Japan.
That is exactly what Osaka, which is hosting the international event in June 2019, desperately wants to avoid.
Cracking down on the illegal facilities, which can lack sufficient fire and safety measures but are popular with frugal tourists, is at the top of the city’s to-do list as an influx of participants before and during the G-20 summit could push other visitors who would ordinarily stay at luxury and business hotels into minpaku, Japan’s version of Airbnb lodging.
“An international conference like the G-20 summit requires safety and a high level of hospitality. Eliminating illegal private lodging as much as possible is the ideal situation,” Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters at a news conference earlier this month.
Minpaku have become popular amid the steady increase in tourists in the past few years. Last year, over 11 million visitors from overseas came to Osaka, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
During the summit, some 30,000 people from presidents and prime ministers and their vast entourages to members of the press are expected to flood the city.
With high-end hotels expected to be full, tourists and business travelers may be forced to opt for private lodging, some of which may be operating illegally and without the necessary safety measures in place.
Thus, the city has budgeted ¥93 million this year to organize a team of about 70 people, including 40 former police officers, to investigate the lodgings in the coming months and determine whether they are operating legally.
“It’s necessary to get the illegal lodgings to follow the rules and come into compliance with the law,” Yoshimura said.
As of this year, the city has about 1,200 hotels and traditional inns in operation, plus another 660 authorized private lodging facilities.
In 2017, the average occupancy rate for Osaka’s hotels was 83.1 percent.
By 2019, there will be an additional 14,000 rooms at authorized hotels and lodging establishments compared with 2016, according to a survey, more than enough to meet anticipated demand from the G-20 and from Olympic-related tourism in 2020.
There are no official figures on how many illegal private lodging facilities there are in Osaka, but the city said that as of this March, it had received nearly 2,000 complaints of suspected illegal facilities.
Osaka Prefecture is planning a similar crackdown on illegal minpaku in seven other cities this year. This includes Sakai, which lies between the city of Osaka and Kansai airport and is believed to host many such lodgings.
Whether Osaka’s efforts will simply drive those who want to stay at minpaku next June to reserve such accommodations in neighboring Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara or Wakayama prefectures remains to be seen. But those prefectures are also, to varying degrees, increasing their efforts to crack down.
The summit venue also needs to be renovated ahead of the G-20 summit to make it more hospitable.
Osaka plans to spend ¥236 million to refurbish the Intex Osaka conference center on the city’s waterfront to improve fire safety measures and redo the hall.
As June is typically hot and humid in Osaka, the air conditioning system will also be upgraded in advance of the summit. Intex Osaka is over 30 years old and was designed for trade shows, where people move around, rather than international conferences.
And in an improvement that has received a good deal of local media attention, public restrooms at adjacent train stations will all be remodeled with Western-style toilets.
Some of the budget may be allocated to upgrade Wi-Fi service following complaints about internet access at past trade shows.
“Compared to parts of Tokyo, Wi-Fi service here at Intex Osaka does seem a bit slower at times, especially for sharing video files and for Skype,” said Hiroshi Komatsu, a 28-year-old businessman from Tokyo, during a recent trade show.
Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.