Airbnb, Ja­panese firm plan lodg­ing at odd, ex­otic sites

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - NAOMI SCHANEN

Airbnb Inc. is aim­ing to de­liver ex­pe­ri­ences in Ja­pan that they can’t get any­where else, by of­fer­ing cus­tomers the op­por­tu­nity to stay in tem­ples, train sta­tions and other un­usual set­tings.

The San Fran­cisco-based home-shar­ing startup will work on the ini­tia­tive with Blue Lab Co., a fi­nan­cial-tech­nol­ogy ven­ture backed by Mizuho Fi­nan­cial Group Inc., the com­pa­nies said in a state­ment last week.

Ja­pan is Airbnb’s fastest­grow­ing mar­ket, now with more than 53,000 list­ings. More than 24 mil­lion tourists vis­ited Ja­pan in 2016, top­ping the record for a fourth straight year, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion. Af­ter years of reg­u­la­tory hur­dles, Ja­pan’s gov­ern­ment passed a law ear­lier this year set­ting out rules for home-shar­ing. That’s spurring an ef­fort to ex­pand the num­ber and va­ri­ety of lodg­ings avail­able to vis­i­tors.

“This is a great way to bring to­gether dif­fer­ent busi­nesses with dif­fer­ent ideas to pro­vide bet­ter ser­vices for cus­tomers to en­joy and ex­pe­ri­ence the real Ja­pan,” Daisuke Ya­mada, pres­i­dent of Blue Lab, said at a news con­fer­ence in Tokyo. “With our con­nec­tions and fi­nan­cial knowl­edge, and Airbnb’s in­ter­na­tional plat­form, we hope to pro­mote the ex­cel­lence of Ja­panese ser­vice.”

Airbnb and Blue Lab are aim­ing to in­tro­duce more ho­tel-like ex­tras, such as room clean­ing and per­son­al­ized ser­vices for older vis­i­tors. Other tourists may want to par­tic­i­pate in lo­cal events, such as pray­ing at a tem­ple or join­ing a fes­ti­val, they said. Glob­ally, Airbnb has been look­ing at new ways to pro­vide hotel­like ser­vices to higher-pay­ing cus­tomers.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Mizuho Bank said it would help prop­erty own­ers and en­ter­prises by ex­tend­ing fi­nanc­ing and other ser­vices. Blue Lab, backed by Mizuho and ven­ture firm WiL LLC, is seek­ing to of­fer pay­ments ser­vices, blockchain­based prod­ucts and other fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy ser­vices.

There’s also lo­cal com­pe­ti­tion. Rakuten Inc. and real es­tate list­ing oper­a­tor Li­full Co. an­nounced plans last month to en­ter the home-shar­ing busi­ness. HomeAway, part of Ex­pe­dia Inc., also of­fers home­shar­ing lodg­ings in Ja­pan.

Airbnb, which is val­ued at $29 bil­lion, ac­com­mo­dated 3.7 mil­lion vis­i­tors in Ja­pan last year. With Tokyo set to host the Rugby World Cup and the Olympic Games, the gov­ern­ment ex­pects 40 mil­lion vis­i­tors by 2020.

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