Terrie's Take 810 (Tourism Edition) -- Airbnb To Become Legal in Japan After All?
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Jun 28 22:43:54 JST 2015
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, June 28, 2015, Issue No. 810
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+++ Airbnb To Become Legal in Japan After All?
The week before last, a reader alerted us to an article on Yahoo Japan
News about a new development in the Special Zones Law, Article 13, a law
which could be easily dubbed the "Airbnb Law". The gist of the article
was that it was highly likely that short-term hosting of private rooms
to travelers would become legal, under the framework of the Special
Zones law (thus bypassing the Hotel Business law). Unfortunately, not
only was the article light on details but in the intervening 7 days, it
has also been deleted from Yahoo's news list, which is kind of strange.
We then went searching on other media about the new events relating to
Article 13, including Yahoo Japan, Google, and various Japanese news
sites, but found nothing besides the original Cabinet Office order
passed last year. That too is strange and maybe it indicates that there
is still a bit of a battle going on behind the scenes. Maybe someone at
Yahoo was a little too quick to publish the news and the rest of the
media have been told to hold their horses.
We can only imagine the machinations going on. But it's likely that the
incumbent hotelier faction (i.e., the All Japan Ryokan Hotel
Association, which hates the idea of private rentals) is fighting a
rearguard action to get Airbnb's business model quashed. Given that the
order is already law, though, the only avenue of attack we can think of
is for the incumbents to pressure the leadership of the two cities
containing those special zones: Tokyo and Osaka. And of these, Tokyo has
the most to gain and appears to be receptive to moving forward with
private rentals. So barring any unforeseen problems, it appears to be
only a matter of time before Airbnb will become semi-legal within Tokyo
at least. This is a big deal because it will up-end the hotel industry,
and maybe signal the grudging acceptance of the sharing economy as a
whole (e.g., Uber and others).
As a bit of background, the Cabinet Office last year put forward a
proposal to deregulate private room rentals as part of its effort to
ensure sufficient accommodation availability for the 2020 Olympics. This
was a prudent move, given that Tokyo hotel accommodation is already at
90% capacity, meaning that as of now (July-October) it's getting really
difficult to find vacant rooms. The subsequent Cabinet Office order was
submitted last December under the Special Zones law, a maneuver
presumably intended to avoid a full-scale battle in the Diet over
rewriting the Hotel Business Law.
Our understanding is that the order became law from April this year, so
we presume that at least two firms (local firm Tomareru and Airbnb) will
have made applications so far, and must now be waiting for acceptance
and approval by Masazoe, the governor of Tokyo. Our guess is that he
will approve them.
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Another important consideration in the Cabinet order is that the minimum
duration of stay will be somewhere between a suggested 10 days and 7
days. Either period seems impractically long for most foreign tourists,
so even if the law is changed it may still not be of much help to Airbnb
in its quest for legal standing. But at least it will provide a
beachhead for them to continue pushing for a more reasonable minimum
stay of 2-3 days.
It's no surprise that there is a battle going on between the various
vested interests. Running a hotel is no small undertaking, and those
investing in their properties would rather to see a saturated market and
a few disgruntled foreigners than to give away market share, especially
when thinking ahead to the expected slide in numbers and glut of new
hotel rooms after the 2020 Olympics.
Currently there are four distinct categories of accommodation: Hotels,
Ryokan, Bed-and-breakfasts (Minshuku), and Boarding Houses/Homestays.
This last category includes low-cost accommodation such as capsule
hotels, youth hostels, and campgrounds. The regulations covering the
hotel industry are comprehensive and are certainly beyond the capacity
of individual renters to meet. Here are some (19) of them:
Building Standard Law (application), Building Standard Law (special
building), Fire Defense Law (fire prevention), Accessibility "Heart
Building" Law, Building Management Law (sanitation), Energy Saving Law,
Metropolitan Building Safety Ordinances, Local Fire Ordinances, Public
Services Ordinances, Buildings in School Zones Ordinances, Inns and
Hotels Law (business licenses and building standards), Law for
Improvement of International Tourist Hotel Facilities, Japan City Hotel
Association Registration Criteria, Law Concerning Regulation and Improving
of Adult Entertainment Businesses, Food Sanitation Law (business
licenses and building standards for eating and drinking facilities),
Public Bath Houses Law (covers pools, not just sento), Law Concerning
Parking Lot Businesses (licenses for paid parking lots), Barbers Law,
Cosmetologists Law (if you have beauty spa facilities), oh, and last but
not least the Laundries Law...!
There is of course a huge opportunity in deregulating casual
accommodation and Airbnb competitors (Rakuten, Daikyo, and others) are
champing at the bit, although none other than Tomareru is ready to start
We met with one of the Airbnb founders some weeks ago and suggested to
him that his company would get better political support if he was to
offer some local innovations in his business model. For example, money
and social standing "talk" in Japanese politics and getting some big
firms involved in the Airbnb model would make a huge difference in
influencing the regulators.
We suggested to him that Airbnb could enter into arrangements with a
number of property companies to build and sell entire buildings whose
rooms serve as Airbnb accommodation. Each room could be sold to a
private investor and these people could either look after the room
themselves or hire someone in like Zens, a pretty cool new service that
does everything for the renter. Tomareru has taken this teaming approach
in a tie-up with accommodation media giant, Able, which is helping them
to source, refurbish, and negotiate the homes that they put up for rent.
The Zens guys are here: http://www.en.zens.tokyo/
The Tomareru guys are here: https://tomarina.com/
The problem is that the founders of Airbnb want to stay true to their
model of renter hosting, because in their minds that reinforces the
quality of the sharing experience. No doubt this keeps users coming back
for more and we understand this. But just as Airbnb is adapting abroad
and has now started moving upmarket and away from the couchsurfing
mentality, it may also have to review its business model in countries
like Japan as well. Right now we get the sense that the company has a
good chance of being legal for stays of 7 days or more, and this will be
a huge strategic win. Add this advance to the fact that Airbnb is also
on the shortlist of companies to supply visitor accommodation to the
2016 Rio Olympics, then it will provide huge leverage for them in
negotiating better terms before the 2020 games in Tokyo.
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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