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Airbnb hopes to make rules simpler for home-rental services in Japan

Airbnb Inc.’s co-founder said Thursday, on the eve of the implementation of legislation in Japan regulating the short-term rental of private homes, that he hopes to work with the government to make the rules simpler.

“Over the last several years, our hosts have had to operate in a grey area and now there’re clear rules. We think (the new legislation) would actually empower many people to host,” Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder and chief strategy officer of the U.S. home-rental service giant, said in an interview with Kyodo News.

Airbnb previously listed private lodgings including those not registered with local municipalities. But ahead of the law’s implementation, Airbnb had to cancel reservations for guests planning to stay at unregistered homes from Friday, when the law comes into effect.

The company said it has paid compensation to those affected. Total costs to deal with the cancellations amounted to 1.1 billion yen ($ 10 million), Airbnb said.

“We have made sure that we are following all of the rules. We do hope that there would be ongoing dialogue (between the government and home-rental service providers) so as to make sure that we have the simplest set of rules that can still be effective for what the government wants to achieve,” he said.

The stricter rules, requiring property owners in Japan to register with local municipalities to rent out vacant homes or rooms to tourists and limiting their rental to 180 days per year, have stirred concerns that home owners may be discouraged from entering the market.

But Blecharczyk seemed to downplay that concern.

“We do expect in the long term that tens of thousands of hosts will become registered.”

The legislation is designed to cope with a sharp increase in foreign visitors and shortage of accommodation ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Offering accommodation in private homes has been allowed in Japan, but under the Hotel Business Law a license was necessary. The new law requires keeping a registry of guests, maintaining hygienic conditions, and responding promptly to complaints from neighbors.

Blecharczyk said the Japanese market has “huge potential” ahead of the Olympics, and cited an Airbnb survey which found Japan was the top destination country in the Asia-Pacific region.

He said 17 percent of foreign visitors to Japan already book their accommodation through Airbnb, and noted that the government has set a goal of boosting the annual number of foreign tourists to 40 million by 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics, from over 28 million in 2017.

“Airbnb can play a big role in 2020,” said Blecharczyk, noting that the company was the official accommodation partner for the 2016 Rio Olympics and 85,000 visitors stayed at Airbnb homes during the event.

Airbnb also said Thursday it has teamed up with 36 Japanese companies in various industries, including airline, security and financial companies, to strengthen its services for both hosts and guests. It will also introduce Airbnb Plus — an upgraded version of the service which offers homes that have been inspected and verified by the company — in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto this year.

Among the partners, Culture Convenience Club Co., the operator of the Tsutaya movie rental and bookshop chain, will start a point rewards program this year for users of Airbnb.

All – Kyodo News+

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