Rakuten partners global home-sharing sites to get a bigger slice of tourism pie

Mr Munekatsu Ota (left), representative director of Rakuten's home-sharing business Lifull Stay, and Booking.com regional director Adam Brownstein at a news conference on Dec 11, 2017. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

TOKYO - Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, which entered the home-sharing business this year, has teamed up with four top global sites that are seeking inroads into the expansive tourism market - and which would otherwise have been its rivals.

The latest deal, inked on Monday (Dec 11), is with Booking.com, the world's largest online accommodation booking site that is now a one-stop platform for hotels to hostels, and from traditional ryokans to modern-day apartments.

Rakuten Lifull Stay, its joint venture with real estate listing operator Lifull Co, also counts as partners such companies as HomeAway, an Expedia subsidiary; Tujia.com, Airbnb's largest Chinese rival with more than 650,000 listings globally; and AsiaYo.com, Taiwan's largest vacation rental site.

Under the agreements, listings of Japanese properties on Rakuten Lifull Stay's portal, tentatively named "Vacation Stay", will also appear on the partner platforms.

The website will be launched in June next year, after the minpaku law that allows Airbnb-style short-term vacation stays comes into effect.

The Bill, passed in June this year, not only clarified a legal grey area over the renting out of properties for short-term periods, but also sought to placate hotel owners peeved at the competition and residents concerned over strangers. It limits the use of properties for short-term stays to 180 nights a year, and mandates that all hosts must register with local authorities.

The spate of deals indicate the sheer size of Japan's tourism market potential, with its home-sharing market dominated by Airbnb.

Airbnb, which has about 56,000 listings in Japan, hosted more than 5.6 million guests in Japan over the past year.

The San Francisco-based site said last week that booking data for the first half of 2018 showed Tokyo as its most popular destination worldwide. Osaka came in third, with Paris sandwiched in between.

Meanwhile, inbound tourism records are being toppled year after year, and the government hopes to welcome 40 million visitors to Japan by 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

As of Nov 4, tourism arrivals this year had already surpassed last year's record of 24.04 million. About 27 million visitors are expected this year.

Rakuten Lifull Stay's strategy, representative director Munekatsu Ota said on Monday, was to partner companies that provide vacation rental services around the world, and give overseas users tailored information about Japan-based listings.

Booking.com, which offers more than 1.5 million properties worldwide, is available in 43 languages across 229 countries and territories worldwide.

Mr Adam Brownstein, Booking.com's regional director for North Asia and Japan, in noting that the number of Japan property listings on the site more than doubled from 8,800 to 18,500 in the past year, said the partnership will open doors to its "full-scale participation in the minpaku business in Japan".

The new agreement between Rakuten Lifull Stay and Booking.com came weeks after news broke that Airbnb Japan is being probed for violating anti-trust laws.

The company admitted last month its office was raided in October, as it denied any wrongdoing. Regulators were looking into a complaint that Airbnb Japan had told its users not to list their properties on any other rival sites.

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