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Sharing Economy

Seven-Eleven to serve as check-in counter for home shares in Japan

Convenience stores fight for tourists as Airbnb-style stays become legal nationwide

Japan's largest convenience store chain will capitalize on its nationwide reach to offer automated home share check-ins. (Photo by Tetsuo Oshiro)

TOKYO -- Seven-Eleven Japan, the country's biggest convenience store chain, is working with travel agency JTB to let users of vacation rental services like Airbnb check in at its locations in another move to boost flagging customer traffic.

The Seven & i Holdings unit plans to bring the check-in service to 1,000 stores in major Japanese cities by fiscal 2020, focusing on popular travel destinations for foreign tourists such as Sapporo and Fukuoka.

Stores in Tokyo's Shinjuku ward will be the first to offer the service on June 15, when a new law allowing home shares nationwide takes effect. By October, up to 50 Seven-Elevens in Tokyo and Osaka will have check-in machines.

To check in, guests will use the machines to take a photo of their face or passport ID page and enter their name, address and other information. Once the information is verified remotely by a JTB service center, the machine will release the keys. At the end of their stay, users can return the keys the same way.

Under the new law, owners who do not live at their rental properties will be required to have a contractor manage such tasks as handling keys, checking identification and maintaining a guestbook. JTB will offer such services for a fee. Convenience store staff will not be involved in the check-in process.

For Seven-Eleven, expanding in-store services provides a way to fight an industrywide decline in customer numbers -- February marked the 24th straight monthly drop in traffic at Japanese convenience stores on a same-store basis. In February, the chain started providing hubs for a SoftBank Group-backed bike-sharing service in an effort to draw more shoppers.

Other convenience store operators have also moved to capture demand from tourists ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when use of vacation rental platforms like Airbnb is expected to surge.

Lawson started a key exchange service in January that it is slated to expand to 100 locations by the end of fiscal 2018. FamilyMart Uny Holdings began a check-in service last November in Okinawa that issues QR codes that can be used as electronic house keys. 

In Japan, Airbnb competes with local startup Hyakusenrenma and Chinese rival Tujia. Tie-ups with 24-hour convenience stores could help the sector grow in the Japanese market, where it has faced regulatory and other headwinds.

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