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Luxury cruise ship to act as 'floating hotel' for Tokyo Olympics

1,000-cabin Sun Princess to provide accommodations for 2020 Games

The Sun Princess, which will serve as a luxury hotel during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has a design similar to that of the Diamond Princess, seen here in Australia's Sydney Harbor.   © Getty Images

TOKYO -- A huge cruise ship featuring restaurants, pools and a theater will be used as a luxury hotel at Yokohama Port during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to alleviate an expected shortage of accommodations for the event. 

The 261-meter Sun Princess will dock at the port’s Yamashita pier between July 23, 2020, the day before the games open, and Aug. 9, the games' final day.

The vessel, operated by U.S. cruise company Princess Cruises, has around 1,000 cabins. A total of 36,000 overnight stays are expected during the Olympics, according to the travel agency JTB, which outlined the plan on Monday. 

“Our plan would help ease a shortage of accommodations during the Olympics,” JTB President Hiroyuki Takahashi said during a news conference.

The minimum required stay on the Sun Princess will be two nights.

Tokyo-based real estate services company CBRE estimates there will be a shortage of around 3,500 rooms in Tokyo in 2020.

The JTB plan has the merits of providing rooms for the Olympics while avoiding a glut of excess hotel space afterward. In addition to a building boom in midrange business hotels, many high-end foreign hotels have also entered the market.

Diamond Princess The Sun Princess has a pool deck like the one seen here on the Diamond Princess.

For two-person, single-room bookings on the Sun Princess, the price per person will range from 30,000 yen to 300,000 yen ($273 to $2,730) a night. Guests can dine on board and enjoy cruise experiences such as live entertainment.

Located south of Tokyo, Yokohama is scheduled to host soccer, baseball and other Olympic events, making it a challenge to find adequate accommodations for spectators and event officials.

Using cruise ships reduces the need to build more hotels. The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro took a similar approach.

It is also a way to promote Japan as a cruise destination.

“The JTB plan will be a great opportunity to drive the popularity of cruises,” Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi told reporters. “I want guests to experience the charms of passenger vessels.”

Around 2.53 million cruise ship passengers visited Japan in 2017, up 27% from the year before. Cruise ships made 2,765 port calls in Japan, an increase of 37% from a year earlier. Both figures were record highs. Cruise ship visits make significant contributions to the local economy.

In addition to Yokohama, other municipalities, including Tokyo, Chiba and Kawasaki are gearing up to host such floating hotels.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has chosen Switzerland-headquartered MSC Cruises, Europe’s biggest cruise line, to operate a floating hotel at the Port of Tokyo with roughly 1,000 cabins. Details are to be worked out by the end of March 2019.

The Japanese government, meanwhile, is working to clear regulatory hurdles to such facilities.

The law on inns and hotels, for instance, requires that each room have a window. Because cruise ships have a certain number of windowless cabins, such ships cannot normally operate as hotels.  

In May, however, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare issued a notice allowing local governments to decide whether to allow windowless rooms to be used as hotel rooms for the duration of special events.

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