Business

Guesthouses in Nara renting rooms for local 'telework refugees'

Kyodo

Six guesthouses in Nara, a popular tourist spot and the ancient capital in western Japan, are renting out their rooms and communal spaces to local "telework refugees" who are unable to secure a quiet working environment at home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The rental service, launched in mid-May, is a way to counter plunging tourist demand due to the pandemic.

All rooms available in the service have internet access. They come in various types and sizes, including a traditional Japanese room with a green screen for use in setting up a virtual background for videoconferences.

Some facilities are located close to ancient temples, including Todaiji, known for its Great Buddha statue, so teleworkers can take breaks outside.

"We'd like to provide services that match the new working styles," said 45-year-old Miki Matsui, who had thought of closing down her guesthouse after the number of tourists plummeted, with rent and water bills weighing heavily on her business.

No reservations were made between April and May — part of a period that has always seen rooms fully booked since the guesthouse's launch in 2017.

That was before a tip from an acquaintance helped her come up with the idea of offering her and other guesthouse operators' places for fees to those juggling their work and care for small children and other family members.

"There have also been groups of mothers using the rooms to enjoy meals together with takeaway food following the lifting of the state of emergency," Matsui said.

Prices differ between facilities, with charges for some rooms at ¥500 ($4.7) per hour and others at ¥3,000 for a maximum 10 hours of daytime use.

Hotels have also been renting rooms in a similar manner to people seeking quiet working environments away from home.

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