Japan’s status as Airbnb’s fastest-growing market in the world may be short-lived.
With tourism in Japan booming, hotel rooms in Tokyo have become scarce. Still, the hotel industry and local populations concerned with the increase of foreigners in their neighborhoods have been pressuring the government to take action.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government just released guidelines for home sharing – called minpaku in Japanese – that could make most Airbnb rentals in the country illegal.
The new rules would allow Airbnb hosts to only rent to guests who stay for a week or more, a tiny piece of the market. The national guidelines only become law if local municipalities decide to ratify them, but that is beginning to happen.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is now the third most valuable start-up in the world. Unlike Uber, the app-based car service that is leading the “sharing economy,” Airbnb has encountered far fewer obstacles on its path to global acceptance. However, the battle in Tokyo is similar to clashes over the rules for home rentals in New York and San Francisco.
The company won’t directly enforce the new rules, said Yasuyuki Tanabe, the head of Airbnb in Japan, but it will ask property owners to adhere to local regulations, reported the South China Morning Post. He adds that hosts may be able to avoid the rules in certain circumstances, without specifying how they would do that.
Terrie Lloyd, who heads online travel portal and consulting firm Japan Travel K.K. in Tokyo, told SCMP that Airbnb and other home- sharing businesses may find ways to avoid restrictions even if they become law. For example, an apartment owner could book a guest for a full week, but then require the person to stay for only a couple of days.
And even if Airbnb doesn’t want to do those work-arounds, the people who run the actual places may end up doing that anyway,