Behind the rout of Airbnb, the setbacks of the sharing economy in Japan

The platform for tourist rental, has been forced to cancel thousands of bookings in Japan after a tightening of legislation. (Photo Lionel BONAVENTURE. AFP)

Thousands of bookings, Airbnb struck out of the card, Uber reduced to deliver meals: between legislation very strict and reticence of the inhabitants, Japan led the hard life the giants of the collaborative economy. which thrive elsewhere in the world.

On 15 June, a new law came into force to regulate short-term rental by individuals (“minpaku”). For the occasion, one of the founders of Airbnb, Nathan Blecharczyk, moved to Japan and welcomed “the new rules which clarify” things.

Anxious without doubt to protect the government there has not said a word of the many cancellations of stays that his company has had to proceed, because the owners of the property had not received at time of registration to propose a housing mode is seasonal.

Airbnb is customary friction with many cities in the world, but here, the disappointment is brutal.

“We are terribly sorry. It is zero – and that is an understatement”, launched the company in announcing the duty to remove from its website the overwhelming majority of its approximately 60,000 ads.

– ‘Special interests’ –

Bureaucratic procedure very heavy, many of the restrictions (duration of rental, condition of surface), and the possibility for local authorities to tighten the rules to make the law ange de facto the development of the “minpaku,” said Hiro Kishi, professor at Keio university in Tokyo.

In Japan, the interests of the sectors long-established precedence, ” he stressed, lamenting the passing of such a law “just two years of the Olympic games”.

Here, it is to protect the hotels and ryokan (inns traditional), in another case, the goal is to preserve the cabs by preventing the platform car booking with driver (VTC) Uber a foothold.

“To promote the sharing economy, it is necessary to relax the regulation” to facilitate the emergence of new entrants, ” he says.

However, the technocrats and the Prime minister Shinzo Abe, despite his promises of reform via its recovery strategy “abenomics”, “has no intention” to do so, stresses the economist, “for fear of an outcry in the sectors that have benefited up to now a monopoly”.

Result, the collaborative economy. not weighed as 50 billion yen in 2016 (384 million euros), a sharp increase for certainly year on year (+26%), according to figures from the institute for research on Yano, but his size is still very small compared to markets in european, american or chinese, when he speaks of tens, or even hundreds of billions of euros.

And only “2.7% of the Japanese know exactly what is the sharing economy”, when “an 80.1% interest totally ignore what it is”, according to a study by the audit firm PwC conducted in may 2017 with 2,000 people.

– Tourist pressure –

What’s more, the picture of this new form of services is negative, according to Takashi Sabetto, the japanese Association of the “Sharing Economy”, founded three years ago to raise awareness among the political class and citizens in the subject.

“Public opinion is very rise against service providers type of Airbnb and Uber. We have tried to change this mentality but it is very difficult, it takes time,” he says.

“The Japanese are very concerned about their private sphere, are worried for their safety and are wary of strangers sometimes noisy and not very respectful of the rules, decrypts M. Sabetto.

However, he noted that “a greater interest” of the younger generations. Among the segments in vogue: car-sharing, bike-sharing (with the arrival of two chinese players in 2017, Ofo and Mobike), the rental items or the delivery of dishes with UberEATS. The american giant has arrived in 2016 to Tokyo where he now has 10.000 runners, before expanding to other cities (Osaka in particular, and soon Kobe, and Kyoto).

For start-up local on the other hand, it remains difficult to find funding, regrets that the head of the association, in a country that promotes “the efficiency in the manufacture of things innovation” in the services.

It is that the Japanese do not see the need to change things in a country where the services proposed are “of good quality, which hinders the development of new offers”.

The solution: locate in rural areas with declining populations to fill the needs of the elderly, like Uber which, for lack of being able to conquer japan’s large cities, is testing a program of VTC in remote locations.

Longer-term, all focus on the outside influence, thanks to the increasing number of tourists: nearly 29 million visitors in 2017, 40 million expected in 2020.

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