TOKYO -- Japanese virtual mall operator Rakuten said on Thursday it will open an online room-sharing marketplace now that the country is poised to lift a ban on room-sharing for travelers.
The government on June 9 passed legislation that will make it legal for companies and individuals to rent out rooms without a hotel license. The law is expected to take effect as early as January.
Rakuten and Lifull, which operates real estate information website Lifull Home's, in March created a room-sharing company that will offer minpaku, or home-sharing, services after the law takes effect.
"If the practice of minpaku spreads in Japan, it will increase the number of inbound travelers and boost the economy," Rakuten Executive Vice President Yoshihisa Yamada told a press conference.
Rakuten has about 90 million registered users. Lifull has some 8 million residential properties listed on its website and about 22,000 affiliated companies in its nationwide network. The partners hope to leverage each other's strengths in catering to Japanese and foreign travelers. The room-sharing marketplace will initially carry tens of thousands of rooms, they said.
Industry leader Airbnb of the U.S. currently has about 50,000 Japanese rooms listed on its site. "If 5-10% of the 8 million or so rooms now listed on Home's are registered [on the new room-sharing site], we will be bigger than Airbnb," Lifull President Takashi Inoue said at the press conference.