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Airbnb offers new services day before minpaku law kicks in

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

A day before a new law on minpaku (private lodging services) takes effect, Airbnb Inc. on Thursday welcomed the change and reinforced its commitment to the Japanese market with fresh initiatives.

Friday “marks the first official day of the home sharing economy and we are very excited to be a part of this important development,” Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of the San Francisco-based room-sharing giant that lists more than 5 million homes worldwide, said Thursday at a Tokyo news conference in the Shibuya district.

Among the new initiatives is a service called Airbnb Plus, which lists only “high standard” homes in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

It also plans to expand counseling services for Airbnb hosts in more regions and help them register their homes, post good photos and handle operations.

Blecharczyk said Japan is the top travel destination for Airbnb customers in the Asia-Pacific region and is working hard to attract more inbound tourists. That means home-sharing services will play a critical role in accommodating more guests, he said.

“We are committed to helping the country maximize its potential as a travel destination,” he said, adding that Airbnb plans to strengthen its services and support for hosts.

In the meantime, the company has been grappling with a cancellation issue sparked by the delisting of minpaku operators that did not meet the requirements of the new law. The company apparently avoided touching on this problem at Thursday’s news conference by abruptly canceling the planned Q&A session, which upset some reporters. The firm said it was simply a scheduling issue.

Airbnb also declined to disclose how many guests were affected.

Some media reports say Airbnb had more than 60,000 homes listed in March but delisted nearly 80 percent of them after the Japan Tourism Agency, which oversees accommodation platforms like Airbnb, announced earlier this month that private websites offering such lodging would have to delist unlicensed properties.

Hosts must register with local authorities before offering short-term rental services, and the platforms are asked not to list hosts that aren’t registered.

Airbnb issued a statement last week that said it negotiated with the regulator but ended up having to cancel reservations “scheduled for guest arrival between June 15 and June 19 at a listing in Japan that does not currently have a license.”

“Going forward, unless the government reverses its position, we will automatically cancel and fully refund any reservations at listings in Japan that have not been licensed within 10 days of guest arrival,” the statement said.

It also said last week that a $10 million fund was set up to support those affected and that it would offer full refunds while helping clients find other places to stay.

Thursday’s event put the spotlight on Blecharczyk and Yasuyuki Tanabe, head of Airbnb’s Japanese branch, but they did not discuss the mass cancellations in their speeches.