Local groups seek ban on unlicensed short-term letting in Hakuba

Hakuba’s local tourism associations are seeking a ban on short-term Airbnb-type accommodation because it could threaten the already-low operational rates of the village’s existing inns and hotels.

Hakuba’s Kirikubo and Shinden districts at the foot of of the Hakuba Iwatake Ski Resort have 68 licensed lodgings that have operating ratios of around 15 ~ 20%, as reported by the Iwatake Tourism Association. The president of the Association says the village already has enough accommodation options for foreign and domestic tourists, and believes that the new model of short-term Airbnb-type lettings is something more suited to a large city.

The ski resort village has seen a surge in foreign visitors in recent years, with over 100,000 foreign tourists staying in lodgings in both 2015 and 2016. In 2016, the village had a total of 2.05 million tourists, both domestic and foreign, down 45% from 20 years ago.

A number of Hakuba’s family-owned and operated lodgings have closed due to the decline in tourist numbers, but several have since been acquired by expats and re-opened.

A survey by the Nagano Prefecture Omachi Public Health Department in March 2017 found that at least 8 of the 150 listings in north-east Nakano on the Airbnb site were operating illegally without the required hotel license. The illegal operators were issued cessation orders, but several of the hosts are foreigners and are having trouble understanding their legal obligations.

In June 2017 the Japanese Government passed a new law governing the short-term rental of private homes. This will legalize short-term letting for up to 180 days in a year, provided a number of conditions are met. Local governments have the power to restrict the law even further, and some have already made moves to ban it outright. The law will go into effect nationwide from 2018.

In March 2016 the town of Karuizawa announced plans to ban short-term rentals for non-hotel licensees. The only exception is for holiday homes that are rented for minimum one month terms with signed rental agreements. Any other short-term letting will require the operator to obtain a hotel license.

In July the Nagano Prefectural Governor indicated that the prefecture may be making moves to make the 180-day rule even shorter. The prefecture is suffering from the lowest hotel operating ratios in Japan with a ratio of just 32.9% as at April 2017, well below the country’s average of 59.9%. The prefecture’s city and business hotels are faring better with operating ratios of 77.9% and 70.4% respectively. However, the ratio for resort hotels is 27.7% and 23.3% for ryokans and pensions.

The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, July 16, 2017.
Minpaku.biz, July 18, 2017.