Airbnb, Mizuho-backed venture team up to offer unusual lodgings in Japan

Tourists walk with their luggage in Tokyo.
Tourists walk with their luggage in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Airbnb is looking to deliver experiences in Japan that travellers cannot get anywhere else, by offering customers the opportunity to stay in temples, train stations and other unusual settings.

The San Francisco-based home-sharing start-up will work on the initiative with Blue Lab, a financial-technology venture backed by Mizuho Financial Group, the companies said in a statement on July 25.

Japan is Airbnb's fastest-growing 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 Organisation.

After years of regulatory hurdles, Japan's government passed a law in early 2017 setting out rules for home-sharing. That is 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," Blue Lab president Daisuke Yamada 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 personalised 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 hotel-like 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, blockchain-based products and other financial technology services.

There is also local competition. Rakuten and real estate listing operator Lifull announced plans in June to enter the home-sharing business. HomeAway, part of Expedia, also offers home-sharing lodgings in Japan.

Airbnb, which is valued at US$29 billion (S$40 billion), accommodated 3.7 million visitors in Japan in 2016.

With Tokyo set to host the Rugby World Cup and the Olympic Games, the government expects 40 million visitors by 2020.