Airbnb users face summer crunch as Japan seeks delisting of unlicensed lodgings

by Cory Baird

Staff Writer

You may want to make your hotel reservations a little earlier this summer.

That’s according to Sho Soma, a specialist in Japan’s minpaku (private lodgings services) market, who predicts that the recent suspension of tens of thousands of Airbnb listings may leave visitors with fewer options for lodgings over the busy summer tourist season.

“July is usually around the time when hotels are full for reservations, but because almost 40,000 Airbnb listings cannot operate, there is a good chance that hotel rooms will be filled earlier in the summer,” said Soma, an employee at Recreator, which operates a website specializing in minpaku.

Since last week, many property owners and guests who booked rooms through Airbnb have been surprised to find that thousands of previously listed lodgings, which had not obtained licenses to operate, have been delisted from Airbnb’s website.

“In the meantime those who are booking Airbnb right now should rest assured that the current properties listed on the website remain in accordance with the law,” Soma added.

Just how long the Airbnb rental squeeze will continue remains unknown. Owners in the process of applying for licenses also had their properties delisted from the website while they wait for final approval from the local authorities that issue permits.

The government officially set June 15 as the deadline for rental properties to obtain proper government licensing in order to continue renting to guests. But last Friday, regulators at the Japan Tourism Agency announced that private lodging service websites, such as Airbnb, would have to delist properties without licensing as soon as possible.

“Many hosts on Airbnb already have a legal basis for hosting. Many are currently going through or finalizing the notification process, and we are on course to register tens of thousands of new listings in Japan in the months ahead,” said Jake Wilczynski, who heads public affairs for Airbnb’s Asian regional office.

Although the move was not meant to affect reservations already on the books, or throw current guests onto the street, some are already feeling the consequences of the decision.

One Airbnb user from New Zealand, who asked not to be named, claimed that one of their reservations in Sapporo was canceled because the operator was not comfortable with the current minpaku environment.

However, she remained confused about the official policy because her other reservations had remained unchanged. “It seemed random that one was canceled and one wasn’t,” she said.

For other Airbnb users currently in Japan, it appears that information on the delistings was not passed along to them. That has left users guessing about the status of their current lodgings.

“We haven’t had any communication with the host since checking in,” said Ben Wyatte, a traveler from Australia on vacation with his family in Tokyo. “I didn’t know about the restrictions until a couple weeks ago. … If we had to suddenly vacate then we’d have no choice but to get a hotel.”

While the step to delist rental properties could unsettle travelers, some residents may welcome the move.

“We have had many people come to our law offices with problems related to illegal Airbnb listings in their buildings,” said Yasunori Ibushi, a lawyer at the Meguro Shirokane Law Office in Tokyo.

“So we think that taking down the illegal listings is a welcome move,” he added.