Japanese jolt as Airbnb register bites hard


Image by マクフライ 腰抜け from Pixabay

Last month held mixed blessings for Airbnb and all the other holiday letting (STHL) companies currently operating in NSW.

They’d have been delighted that Labor’s sensible but potentially profit-blocking proposals for a holiday letting register will have to wait another four years at least, following the State election (unless there’s a higher-than-average wave of career-ending scandals that changes the balance of power in Parliament).

On the downside, Airbnb had to deal with the embarrassment of one of their hosts having been caught secretly filming their guests from New Zealand.

If the effects seen elsewhere in the world had been replicated here, the register proposed by Labor would have reduced STHL listings by 30 to 50 per cent by flushing out all the illegal or unapproved lets as well as any tax-dodging hosts.

Japan legalised home sharing last year, but as of June 15, hosts had to get a license number from their local council in order to keep their listing on Airbnb who agreed that if hosts didn’t have a license number, their listings would be taken down.

The effect on Airbnb listings in Japan was immediate and profound, according to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald Traveller section. Just over a week before a new law for minpaku (private lodging services) went into effect last June, Airbnb dropped nearly 80 per cent of its listings for the services over the previous three months.

There was also a spate of last-minute cancellations that occurred after the government applied the new laws rigidly and included hosts who’d applied for a number but hadn’t yet received one.

In a lesson for any other country or state that you don’t have to do holiday lets on an all or nothing basis, hosts can only rent their properties for 180 days a year in Japan, and rentals in Kyoto will only be allowed during the tourism low season, between mid-January and mid-March.

As of March last year, Airbnb had over 62,000 properties in the country available for rental. That number dropped to 13,800 in June but has already recovered to about two-thirds of its peak.

“We went down after the law, but since then it came up at a relatively fast pace. Being compliant has been a catalyst for our growth,” said Chris Lehane, head of global policy and public affairs at Airbnb at a press conference in February.

He also announced that the platform now had 41,000 listings in Japan,  less than 70% of what it had at its peak although that now includes more than 5,000 rooms in hotels, guesthouses and traditional Japanese inns, categories that Airbnb has sought to expand following the introduction of the law, according to an article in Nikkei Asian Review.

Meanwhile, Airbnb found it less easy to put a positive spin on the story of a family from New Zealand who were able to connect to live feed of themselves from a hidden camera concealed in their Airbnb accommodation in Ireland.

Airbnb have apologised to a the Barker family who told NZ website Stuff that when Mr Barker, who is an IT consultant, went to connect his phone to the wi-fi network, he noticed a device called “IP camera”.

“He scanned that device’s ports and found the live video feed. We were all watching ourselves on his mobile phone,” mum Nealie Barker said. The camera, which was found in the lounge, which Barker said had a view of the lounge, dining and kitchen area.

The family left the bed and breakfast that night, and stayed at a nearby hotel instead. The Barkers then confronted both the accommodation owner and the Airbnb organisation.

Nealie Barker said the host initially refused to answer their questions and denied having a hidden camera. She also said the initial response from Airbnb was “hopeless” and it took several weeks to hear about the outcome of their complaint.

Airbnb have since apologised to the family and given the family a full refund, and confirmed that they had “permanently removed this bad actor from our platform”.

Airbnb’s policy strictly prohibits hidden cameras in listings and it takes reports of any violations extremely seriously, a spokesperson said.

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