This post is also available in: Japanese
There was a backlash in the summer of 2017 in Europe against Airbnb and more widely against the impact of tourism on cities such as Venice and Barcelona. With the new minpaku (guesthouse) law being enacted in Japan, and Japan having its own tourism boom, there is much to learn for Japan and Europe from the “sharing economy” and its impact not just on the tourism industry but communities and global business.
I have used Airbnb both as a guest and also to rent out our spare room. All our guests have been friendly, tidy and responsible and have ranged from a Pakistani PhD student through to a comedian duo from Canada. My initial concerns about allowing strangers into our home have not been justified.
Airbnb helps with this by verifying identities – of host and guest – and encouraging people to upload personal details such as photos of themselves, their interests and the reason for their visit. Airbnb also provides a very user-friendly platform and plenty of support and advice to enable good communication and high standards of behaviour and facilities.
What is becoming clear, however, is that Airbnb has a lot more work to do at the local level. As disruptive companies mature, their business becomes more mainstream. There are more and more professional holiday letting companies appearing on Airbnb and whole houses and apartments – not just spare rooms – can be booked via the site. This is raising concerns about whether the appropriate taxes are being paid, whether the accommodation is sufficiently regulated in terms of safety and potential nuisance to neighbours and whether the bigger profits to be gained from putting properties on Airbnb rather than traditional renting is exacerbating housing shortages for local residents.
Theories of how to manage multinational businesses tend to focus on balancing local and global needs – for example the matrix structure of vertical businesses and horizontal functions, or making sure that brands are “glocal” – globally recognisable but with a local flavour – like a McDonald’s teriyaki burger.
What I have learnt from Airbnb is that the “personal” is also important. To be able to verify, trust and feel empathy with the customer/guest or supplier/host as a person, even if they come from a different culture to you.
Japanese multinationals are usually quite good at the local aspect – they pay their taxes and are good corporate citizens. At the global level, Japanese car brands in particular are making the transition towards becoming a “platform” – they provide the globally assured brand, design and quality standards in assembling parts from multiple regional suppliers.
The next challenge is the personal level. Japanese executives are self-effacing (mostly) and Japanese social media users prefer to stay anonymous and not reveal which companies they work for. But in order to ensure your company is “verifiable” and “trusted” by your customers, it will be necessary for the local face of your company to be more personal.
This article was originally published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News and also appears Pernille Rudlin’s new book “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” – available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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