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Airbnb on Japanese charm offensive

Profile Photo By: Steve Shellum
June 15, 2016

Airbnb on Japanese charm offensive

Airbnb has gone on a charm offensive in Japan, hoping to drum up support as regulators there debate whether to clamp down on the startup’s rapidly expanding operations, Bloomberg reported.

Airbnb Japan

The world’s third-most valuable private startup dispatched high-powered lawyer and political strategist Chris Lehane to lay out how it can buoy a stagnant economy and support the 2020 Olympics. Just last month, co-founder Joe Gebbia was in Tokyo extolling its contributions to entrepreneurship.

The company is hoping to win over hearts and minds in what was its fastest-growing market in 2015, a country experiencing a tourism boom that’s in turn constricting hotel room availability. Lehane, the ex-White House crisis manager known as the “master of disaster,” recently helped Airbnb defeat a ballot measure seeking to curb its operations in San Francisco. One of his tasks now is to side-step the sort of controversy that has dogged Airbnb in other markets – and anticipate problems unique to Japan.

“We have certainly been warned by our experiences elsewhere in the world,” Lehane said at a briefing in Tokyo. “Airbnb offers a significant social value proposition in Japan.”

The company’s hosts and guests in Japan generated 236.3 billion yen (US$2.2 billion) in economic activity last year, said Lehane, a former strategist for Bill Clinton and Airbnb’s head of global
Listings in Japan quadrupled last year to more than 35,000, hosting 1.38 million guests, according to Bloomberg. A weakened yen and the relaxing of visa requirements pushed inbound tourists to a record 19.7 million last year from 8.4 million in 2012 – and made Tokyo hotel occupancy rates tighter than Paris, Hong Kong or New York.

The number of visitors will hit 35 million by 2020, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimates.

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