Foreign visitors to book love hotels during trips to Japan through Rakuten Travel

In desperate need for a place to stay in Japan? All the hotels are full and you don’t fancy your chances with an Airbnb? Another option is a love hotel, which is often not much more expensive than a regular hotel and sometimes even cheaper.

However, many hotels cannot always be booked in advance and even ones that can are typically lacking in any services for non-Japanese-speaking guests.

Enter Rakuten, the Japanese online retail giant that counts a travel site within its bevy. Due to the ongoing tourism boom in Japan, there is a shortage of hotel rooms and Rakuten Travel hopes to make up the shortfall by offering a love hotel reservation service.

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This is not a surprise: as we reported in 2016, the government has even hoped that love hotels would start offering “regular” accommodation to visiting tourists to help cover the shortage.

Apparently Rakuten Travel is the first company in Japan to accept reservations for overnight stays in love hotels from foreign visitors, according to the Asahi Shimbun. Love hotels are a major industry in Japan and frequented by people from all walks of life. However, travel companies associate them with being revenue sources for organized crime groups, though we are not sure how accurate this stereotype actually is. Many love hotels are family-owned.

Rakuten is negotiating with Alex, which operates an information and reservation website for love hotels. Though Rakuten Travel wants to distinguish its love hotels listing from other “normal” hotels, it won’t be short of options to offer customers. It has already received requests from some 200 hotels to be listed. It will have to vet all hotels to ensure they are not linked to the yakuza, the company has said, since its code of ethics prohibit dealing with organized crime. However, there may be various front organizations at play here that make it hard to tell who is really operating the hotels.

If Rakuten Travel can make a success of this, expect other tour operators and travel companies to follow suit smartish as everyone tries to cash in on the tourism boom.

More than 20 million tourists visited Japan in 2016 and the government wants this to keep on rising as we get closer to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. This means there’s a real need for more hotels and accommodation. Many people also want interesting experiences and a stay at a love hotel, especially in a famous place like Shibuya’s Dogenzaka or a wacky themed hotel somewhere, might be just the thing to make a trip truly memorable.

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