#9 of 11 Brazilian Airbnb's You Must Experience
#9 of 11 Brazilian Airbnb’s You Must Experience

Japan may need to learn to love Airbnb.

As the democratization of the hotel industry takes the inevitable step of your home becoming another hotel room, Rio knows it will need to consider all options to accommodate the spike in visitors during the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.

According to ESPN, Airbnb is now the official “alternative accommodations” sponsor of the 2016 Games. That’s an amazing 20,000 spaces in peoples’ homes available to visitors.

During the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the government came up with various ideas to increase the number of rooms. One of the ideas was asking owners of private homes to make rooms available to foreign guests. A total of 1,445 beds in 588 homes were available to guests, a 20th century version of Airbnb. But, different from Airbnb, the government made sure that Japanese in charge of restaurants, hotels and shops were provided training and information on food sanitation, medical and first aid services for foreign guests, even to the owners of the private homes.

Let’s see how it goes in Rio. In the meanwhile,

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Ollie the OwlTripAdvisor mascot – an owl called Ollie – has one red eye and one green eye. And like the traffic light symbols they represent, TripAdvisor and other online recommendation sites let you know through massive user content contribution which hotels are a-go, and which are not. According to Mr. Michael Stobo, the head of APAC Market Development at TripAdvisor, Japan had a record 14 million foreign tourists in 2014, and that is expected to climb to 20 million in the next five years. Now I thought that a big issue for the Olympics will be hotel capacity, since hotels in Tokyo appear to be already at high occupancy rates on average days.

But according to Mr Stobo, who spoke recently at an American Chamber of Commerce Japan event, the issue is more about inefficiency. “Lots of companies that manage properties in Japan still target mostly domestic travelers,” answered Stobo to my question. “These travel companies – like Jalan, and Rakuten- need to be more externally aware as they are so Japan focused.” “For example, Expedia may only offer 10 rooms of a given hotel to a customer, but while there is actually remaining inventory, those rooms aren’t made available to overseas customers. It’s an efficiency issue. It’s possible because they have difficulty selling in French or German, they are reluctant to make the rooms available (to non-Japanese).” Interesting! Stobo went on to say that Japan needs to continue improving the ability for the non-Japanese to navigate on their own. “It’s not just about making inventory available. Navigating the rail

Japan Times, October 8, 1964
Japan Times, October 8, 1964

Nicola Zappeti, recently released from prison, found himself in Tokyo in the late 1950s with nothing but a notion that Japan needed a pizzaria. And so he cajoled enough friends and acquaintances to provide him with funds to start an Italian restaurant, despite the fact that the only thing he knew about the restaurant business was that he liked Italian food. From nothing, Zappetti created a culinary icon, explains author and old Japan hand, Robert Whiting describes in his book, “Tokyo Underworld – The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan“.

“Nicola’s was still the attraction. It now occupied an entire newly constructed three-story concrete building with forty large tables, two blocks from its original location and a stone’s throw from the opulent new Hotel Okura, modeled after an ancient Kyoto palace and adjudged to be the finest hotel in the world. The restaurant had made Roppongi synonymous with pizza.

tokyo underworld“Although Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko had subsequently curtailed their pizza-eating excursions to concentrate on the task of producing an heir to the throne, Nicola’s remained a Who’s Who of Tokyo and international society. On any given night,

From the New York Times Magazine, February 18, 2015
From the New York Times Magazine, February 18, 2015

Hotels in Tokyo are already at record occupancy rates, well over 80%. In many cases, you simply can’t book a room in the major hotels in Tokyo. An acquaintance recently told me that he tried to book hotel rooms for July/August 2020, in anticipation of the Tokyo Olympics, but the hotels weren’t biting. By 2020, Tokyo will have an additional 1,780 more rooms available, but tourism to Japan is increasing, and the Olympics will see a huge spike in tourists. What to do? What to do? Is Airbnb the answer? (In the case of Japan, probably not….) Go to NYTimes article.