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Airbnb use soars while Japan juggles legal conundrum

Most Airbnb users in Japan come from Asian countries, such as South Korea, China, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

TOKYO -- More than 3 million visitors to Japan found lodging via Airbnb in the January-October period, even as the country continues to struggle regarding its legal stance on paid stays at private residences.

Such home-sharing arrangements like those on Airbnb, which are known as minpaku in Japan, exist in a legal gray zone. But user numbers have surged nonetheless. Roughly 10% of visitors to Japan are thought to use the service, as overall tourist numbers hit 20 million at the end of October.

Japan ranks in the top five for the number of lodgers, Airbnb's Christopher Lehane told The Nikkei on Tuesday. Lehane oversees the company's negotiations with national governments. Airbnb users in Japan hit a record in the January-October period, more than doubling the 1.3 million total from all of 2015.

The most users came from South Korea in the 12 months through October, followed by mainland China, the U.S. and Hong Kong. Asian countries and regions accounted for seven of the top 10. Furthermore, 69% of the tourists are ages 18-34, known as the millennial generation. The bulk of the world's tourists in the next 10 years will consist of millennials, and Japan's tourism is driving this trend, Lehane said.

Lehane stresses that minpaku will play a crucial role in helping Japan's government reach its goal of 40 million tourists annually by 2020. Yet legal issues remain, since certain standards must be met under Japanese law to operate a lodging facility. And reaching a consensus with the country's hotel industry, especially regarding the allowed number of operating days for minpaku lodging, is proving difficult.

The practice currently is permitted only in Tokyo's Ota Ward, a government special strategic zone, and for rooms granted approval as lodging for multiple people, such as campsites and capsule hotels. Many minpaku spaces likely do not fall into either category.

Airbnb was established in 2008, and its website connects guests with hosts who have private rooms. The service is available in 191 countries and regions, in over 34,000 cities, and lists a total of roughly 2.5 million properties. The service recorded over 100 million uses worldwide, and Japan has 46,000 listed properties.

Businesses from emerging markets also have entered the industry, such as China's Tujia.com. But friction has grown among existing industries. Thailand's hotel industry called for the government to enforce a requirement that hosts obtain licenses to operate.

(Nikkei)

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