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Travel & Leisure

A year out, top Tokyo hotels hang no vacancy signs for Olympics

Capital and nearby cities scramble to host 10 million visitors amid 14,000-room shortfall

Renovations at Hotel Okura Tokyo will be completed before the Olympics, but rooms there will not be offered to the general public. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama)

TOKYO -- Some of the capital's most iconic hotels have already stopped taking room reservations during next summer's Olympic Games as the city stares down a 14,000-room shortfall for an expected 10 million visitors when the festivities get underway.

The luxury Hotel Okura Tokyo, which will reopen next month after 110 billion yen ($1 billion) in renovations, has cut off bookings to the general public during the Olympics so it can to offer rooms to International Olympic Committee members and staff.

The Imperial Hotel Tokyo, another of the capital's classic hotels, is preparing to host guests of honor during the Games, and has yet to say whether it will take general bookings.

The Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel, located in the bayside area where many Olympic facilities are concentrated, also plans to have all 830 of its rooms occupied by people connected with the Games. The hotel said that on June 20, the day the results of the Olympic ticket lottery were announced, it had to turn down all of the over 100 inquiries it received, including some from lottery winners.

While most visitors were likely priced out the luxury hotels, it nonetheless adds to the accommodation crunch in the capital despite a recent construction boom. Tokyo will have a total of 170,000 rooms in 2020 -- up 30,000 from 2017 -- but that still is not enough for the 10 million foreign and domestic tourists expected in the city when the Games take place from July 24 to August 9 next year, said Takayuki Miyajima of the Mizuho Research Institute.

A guest room at the Ascott Marunouchi Tokyo.

The projections are based on the 2012 London Olympics. The shortage could be "especially large" in the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts, where accommodations are in high demand among foreigners, Miyajima said.

The organizing committee has tentatively reserved about 46,000 hotel rooms near Olympic facilities for members of sports governing bodies and others involved in the Games. A spokesperson said the reservations had included some spare rooms just in case, to make sure the event ran smoothly. With nearby hotels giving priority to athletes, Olympic committee members and other officials, spectators will be hard-pressed to find rooms.

This is already driving up prices. A major booking site showed that a single room with a double bed, private bathroom and no meals would cost 67,000 yen ($617) at a business hotel in Tokyo's Minato Ward for the night of July 31, 2020. That is quadruple the price for the same room last week.

Travel agencies, which are looking to book rooms for next summer's tours in advance, are already voicing concern about finding accommodations.

"We don't know how many rooms will be available until that time comes," said one a travel agency representative, who sounded worried. During heavy travel periods, such as the late-summer Bon holiday, prices usually increase by 50% to 100% from off-season rates, but the representative said prices may reach "2.5 to 3 times" off-season levels during the Olympics.

As of last month, Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama had about 6,800 private residences legally registered as Airbnb-style lodgings, known as minpaku in Japanese. Booking sites show that prices for such lodgings in central Tokyo have already surged to over 100,000 yen per night during the Games.

To help cover the lodging deficit, the capital plans to turn cruise ships docked at the Tokyo International Cruise Terminal into floating hotels from July 24 to July 29, adding 2,116 rooms. The Kanagawa Prefecture cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki plan to do the same.

Municipalities near the capital are vying to capture the unfilled demand. The city of Maebashi, in Gunma Prefecture, has offered to cover half the costs -- with a cap of 10 million yen -- for businesses making renovations geared toward foreign visitors, such as installing multilingual signs. The city aims to "attract visitors on the basis of our location an hour from Tokyo" by shinkansen bullet train, a tourism representative said.

"It may be necessary to make flexible use of existing facilities, such as private businesses' and public agencies' boardinghouses and research facilities," said Hajime Takebayashi, a professor of tourism at Wakayama University.

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