TOKYO -- People planning a trip to Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics are already having trouble finding accommodations.
Some hotels in and around the capital have stopped taking reservations for the period of games, as organizers have many places booked solid from July 24 through Aug. 9, for the Olympics, and from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 for the Paralympics. Many locations in Greater Tokyo, even those far from the city center, are short of rooms.
Despite the squeeze, it is unlikely that spectators will be sleeping on the streets: New hotels are going up, and Olympic officials will cancel many tentative reservations once they have a better idea of how many people will actually make the trip. Local governments are also responding with stopgap measures, such as hiring out cruise ships to serve as floating hotels.
In the short to medium term, however, the lodging shortage is a problem. A search on one hotel booking site for rooms in Tokyo's Shinjuku and Ginza shopping districts for late July 2020 shows many properties fully booked. When rooms are available, prices are often sky high. The difficulty finding vacancies during the games contrasts sharply with a three-day holiday next February, when open rooms are plentiful.
The shortage is not limited to Tokyo. North of the city, the Hotel Metropolitan Saitama-Shintoshin, which is near Saitama Super Arena, the Olympic basketball venue, has a message on its website that reads: "We are not taking reservations" for the period of the Olympics. The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee has booked the entire hotel. Once the committee confirms the guest list, the hotel says it will start offering rooms to the public.
Some hotels around the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture have had at least half their rooms reserved by the organizing committee. The convention center will host a number of events, including fencing and wrestling. "We can hardly accept reservations until we know how many rooms the organizing committee will actually need," said a booking manager at one hotel in the area.
The shortage is forcing many fans to look for accommodations far from the venues. The Hotel Garden Palace, in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, says it has been handling inquiries for the last two years despite being more than an hour by train from Saitama Super Arena.
In Tokyo, prices for Airbnb-style minpaku lodgings are also soaring, with some charging more than double their usual rates for the Olympic period.
The crunch is no surprise. Last year, Mizuho Research Institute estimated there would be a shortage of up to 13,700 rooms in Tokyo in August 2020. The organizing committee has tentatively reserved tens of thousands of rooms near Olympic facilities for members of sports governing bodies and others involved in the Summer Games, making it harder for spectators to find places to stay.
Mizuho Research Institute predicts that people who would normally visit Tokyo in the summer will avoid the city during the Olympics, which could lead to a shortage of accommodations in November and December next year.
Many hotel operators are building new accommodations to meet the surge in demand, and to take advantage of the boom in Japan tourism more broadly. Tokyo's 23 wards will have 29,000 more rooms in 2021 than in 2018, a 24% increase, according to CBRE, a real estate market specialist.
Areas near Tokyo's Haneda Airport, in particular, are seeing a lot of building. Sumitomo Realty & Development is constructing a hotel next to the airport that is scheduled to open next April. Railway operator Keikyu plans to open a Keikyu EX Inn one stop from Haneda Airport International Terminal Station. In Yokohama, business hotel chain APA Group in September finished construction on a property with more than 2,000 rooms near Yokohama Stadium, which will host baseball and other Olympic events.
Some analysts warn that the hotel construction boom could lead to a glut of rooms once the games are over.
Fears of a shortage during the Olympics have led some local governments to scramble for temporary accommodations. The Kawasaki municipal government is working with a private-sector partner to make a cruise ship available to tourists during the event. The ship will be docked in Kawasaki port for 18 days, adding 928 rooms capable of housing a total of 1,870 people.
The municipal government in the city of Chiba is looking to its citizens for help. It has started recruiting people willing to rent out their spare rooms for the Olympics. The local government hopes to have 100 private houses registered for the program by the start of the games.
The recent Rugby World Cup held in Japan has some hoteliers looking forward to a profitable Summer Olympiad. Hakone Ashinoko Hanaori, a Japanese-style inn in the hot spring resort town of Hakone, southwest of Tokyo, will begin taking reservations for the Olympic season in March or April next year. It had not expected an increase in guest traffic during the games because it is far from central Tokyo, but the large number of overseas guests it accommodated during the Rugby World Cup has raised its expectations.
An association of hotels and inns in Tokyo offers tips for tourists struggling to find a place to stay during the games. Some hotels and inns actually accept reservations over the phone, even though their websites may say they are full, according to the association.