Rakuten teams up with Booking.com on vacation rentals

Mr Munekatsu Ota, representative director of Rakuten Lifull Stay, and Mr Adam Brownstein, Booking.com's regional director for North Asia and Japan, announcing their partnership on Monday.
Mr Munekatsu Ota, representative director of Rakuten Lifull Stay, and Mr Adam Brownstein, Booking.com's regional director for North Asia and Japan, announcing their partnership on Monday. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

Its Japan property listings will also appear on partners' accommodation booking platforms

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, which entered the homesharing 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 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 companies such 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 shortterm vacation stays takes effect.

The Bill, passed in June this year, not only clarifies a legal grey area over the renting out of properties for short-term periods, but also seeks 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 register with the local authorities.

The spate of deals indicates 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 the country over the past year.

The San Francisco-based site said last week that booking data for the first half of next year 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 the capital 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, said representative director Munekatsu Ota, 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 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 agreement inked on Monday between Rakuten Lifull Stay and Booking.com came weeks after news broke that Airbnb Japan is being investigated for violating antitrust laws. The company admitted last month that its office was raided in October, but denied any wrongdoing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Rakuten teams up with Booking.com on vacation rentals'. Print Edition | Subscribe