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Airbnb and Sompo to offer 24-hour support in Japan

Partnership with property insurer aims to ease local concerns about home sharing

There are currently around 60,000 Japanese properties listed on Airbnb.

TOKYO -- Airbnb and Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance are teaming up to provide services meant to defuse trouble with home sharing in Japan, where many residents worry about problems with guests.

This will be the first collaboration with a Japanese insurer for the U.S-based tech company, which, like ride-hailing service Uber, has hit speed bumps entering Japan.

As part of the partnership, Sompo Holdings unit Prime Assistance will operate a 24-hour call center for Airbnb hosts and guests to respond to complaints about problems with their rooms, noise and garbage. Service personnel will be dispatched if necessary to prevent any situations from worsening.

This service is already being tested in some areas before it will be scaled up. Starting in January, the call center will also provide directions to properties for guests. 

In addition, the two companies will jointly develop insurance products. Airbnb currently offers universal compensation insurance to all hosts, but Sompo Japan hopes to use the platform's knowledge to develop more specialized policies.

Travelers from Malaysia stay in a one-room condo in Tokyo's Ota Ward.

Home sharing, known as minpaku here, is expected to grow in Japan after legislation freeing this business from Japan's hotel law restrictions takes effect in June. But potential hosts as well as neighbors remain wary of the practice, seeing it as a recipe for trouble, and more properties are needed. The Airbnb-Sompo partnership is meant to alleviate such worries so the market can expand.

Motivated by public concerns, local governments are adding their own regulations on top of the national home-sharing law, which imposes a cap of 180 days a year on minpaku businesses. Some municipalities have restricted the days of the week and areas where they can operate. Nearly half of Tokyo's 23 wards have proposed home-sharing regulations. The northern island of Hokkaido and the old capital of Kyoto plan to establish their own rules as well.

Despite such misgivings, local authorities and groups are looking to work with Airbnb to relieve shortages of lodgings, make use of empty homes and support renovation of traditional Japanese houses. Sompo Japan has also concluded agreements with 84 local authorities for such regional revitalization projects.

Home-sharing offers a chance for small-town Japan to attract international travelers and put ghost properties to use. Major Japanese companies have been making moves into this market. E-commerce group Rakuten will launch an online marketplace and property management service for vacation rentals once the law enters into force. Sumitomo Forestry and travel agency JTB have teamed up with Hyakusenrenma, a sort of home-grown Airbnb, to enter the business as well.

(Nikkei)

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