Harrowing the Tourist Lodging Industry
SNA (Tokyo) — Over the past decade, private accommodation options such as Airbnb have grown to provide lodging to over 12% of all foreign visitors to Japan, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. These forms of accommodation, which the Japanese government has dubbed “minpaku,” are a vital part of the growing Japanese tourism industry. However, in a shortsighted move, national and local governments have drawn up strict regulations in the Minpaku Law that may very well maim the industry, and thus impede the Japanese tourism industry as a whole.
The Minpaku Law, scheduled to be effectuated from this June, is packaged in the guise of safety regulations to bring private accommodation standards closer to hotel standards.
For some private owners of minpaku, including one who recently spoke to the SNA and who owns several such accommodations in Osaka and Kyoto, these regulations introduce significant obstacles for their businesses, and represent frustrating double standards in government policy. For example, the law introduces new building codes, such as emergency exit lights and strict hallway width regulations for rental homes that are not applied to other houses in the surrounding area. It is not clear why safety regulations for tourists should far exceed what is required for ordinary neighborhood residents. Furthermore, the law adds an extra layer of bureaucracy and administration for the owners and operators of minpaku accommodations, making them more difficult to open and maintain.
Those concerned with the law include not only the managers of minpaku, but also real estate companies which rely on these managers to renovate and maintain houses and apartments that otherwise would remain vacant due to declining populations and the decrepit conditions of the existing properties.
Tighter restrictions on private accommodation are mainly supported by certain local residents who see the influx of tourists as a threat to their neighborhood environment. Noise and garbage disposal are among the common nuisances that neighbors cite regarding minpaku.
In Kyoto, for example, tensions are particularly high as locals have become increasingly annoyed by the waves of tourists flooding into their neighborhoods and disrupting their way of life.
The Minpaku Law arrives at a time of extremely high growth within the tourism industry. While the legislation appears to be aimed mainly at alleviating social problems and ensuring safety, it also risks forcing many existing Airbnb and other similar minpaku accommodations to close their doors due to heavy-handed and unimaginative regulation. This, in turn, might deliver a blow to an industry which forms a crucial element of the government’s growth strategy.
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