Japan minpaku offerings up eightfold in year since they were legalized

Kyodo, JIJI

The number of minpaku (private lodging) facilities has increased eightfold since they were legalized a year ago to relieve a hotel room shortage caused by Japan’s record-setting tourism boom, according to data released by the government.

There were 2,210 such lodgings when the law took effect on June 15, 2018, and the number had risen to 17,301 as of early June, with nearly half of them offered in Tokyo and Osaka, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

The data also show that the rapid expansion was driven by corporations diversifying into the minpaku business. Around half of the listed lodgings in the country are operated by corporate bodies, according to the agency’s data.

Still, some experts say the minpaku business needs to be deregulated as lobbying by the hotel industry put a cap on the number of days minpaku operators can rent their rooms, making it difficult to make a profit.

According to the agency, 982 of the facilities have been closed in the past year. Minpaku rentals are limited to 180 days a year.

Filtering out illegal facilities continues to be a challenge as the operators can contact potential clients directly via social media.

The central government, which aims to boost tourism as a pillar of its growth strategy, expects minpaku to offset the shortage of accommodations ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The number of visitors to Japan in fiscal 2018 ended in March exceeded 30 million. Japan aims to welcome 40 million in 2020.

A total of 17,301 minpaku applications had been submitted to local governments as of June 7, about eight times more than when the law went into effect on June 15 last year.

Under the law, owners of private houses and condominiums can rent out unused rooms to travelers after registering with their municipalities.

While minpaku services were already available with approval under the hotel business act, the new law made it easier to apply to offer such services.

The law is aimed at rooting out unauthorized minpaku services operating despite safety and sanitation issues. It was also drawn up to settle neighborhood disputes over guests who are noisy or ignore the local garbage disposal rules.

The Japan Tourism Agency has been calling on minpaku operators to register their operations. It has also partnered with operators of platforms, such as Airbnb Inc., to delete and prevent listings of unauthorized minpaku from their websites.

In April, the agency started a database for such platform operators that lists registered lodgings.

Tourism minister Keiichi Ishii told a news conference Tuesday that measures against illegal minpaku were “improving in efficacy.”

But unauthorized accommodations have yet to be eradicated. Authorities have found it difficult to crack down on minpaku run by operators living abroad, or those who book guests through social media.

In March, four governments, including the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, requested the central government to take action against illegal accommodations on the grounds that it was difficult for them to crack down on such services by themselves.

While the relevant ministries and agencies are considering ways to cooperate with municipalities, an official of the Japan Tourism Agency is worried such efforts will only lead to “a cat-and-mouse game.”

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