2020 Summer Olympics: the best Tokyo hotel and hostel deals after Airbnb crackdown
Bargains will be at a premium after early bulk bookings and a restriction on Airbnb listings that benefits Japanese hotel owners – but good deals can still be found
In August the Hotel Okura Tokyo in the inner-city district of Toranomon announced that all of its 508 rooms were fully booked for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Most of the rooms have been booked to accommodate officials affiliated with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Around half of the guest rooms at the Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba in Odaiba, beside Tokyo Bay, have been snapped up by IOC officials as well.
It may seem unnecessarily early to start planning your trip to the Games, but bulk bookings like these – along with recent restrictions on Airbnb listings – mean accommodation options during July and August 2020 could soon become limited, and those looking for a good deal should act fast. Here is what tourists visiting the Japanese capital during the 2020 Olympics need to know.
Do not presume you can rely on Airbnb
On June 1 this year, the Japanese government made an amendment to the Japanese Hotels and Inns Act, which required Airbnb owners to register their listing by June 15. Those without a valid licence number by the cut-off date had their rental status revoked.
The rules, which limit owners to renting out their properties for 180 days a year, have been criticised by some as restrictive, and could cause a shortage of accommodation during the Games.
“I am not surprised the Japanese government cracked down on Airbnb,” says Victoria Vlisides, the travel editor in chief of GaijinPot, one of Japan’s biggest English-language publications. “I believe they want to protect the traditional hotels over Airbnb.
“On the bright side, this could mean that there are more high-quality Airbnb locations after the dust settles, because hosts now have to work harder just to have a listing.”
Higher-quality rental rooms would be welcome, but some wonder whether it is worth restricting travellers’ choices to bring them about.
“Families, especially with smaller children or those with elderly members with mobility issues appreciate the refuge that a quiet, spacious flat provides,” says Greg Lane, co-founder of online travel guide Tokyo Cheapo.
“The cost and experience of renting two or three small hotel rooms is qualitatively inferior to Airbnb – to the extent that these groups considering a holiday to Japan will think twice.”
Inner city apartment hotels such as the Citadines in Shinjuku or Hotel MyStays Hamamatsucho, east of Roppongi, offer families self-service alternatives.
Keep an eye on hotel announcements
According to the Japan National Tourist Organisation, 2017 saw the country welcome a total of 28.7 million visitors, 19 per cent more than the previous year. In the months between January and May this year alone, the country reported 13.1 million visitors, just 300,000 shy of the total number of visitors in 2014.
The country has doubled its overseas visitor target number for 2020 to 40 million and – expecting it to continue to rise after the Olympics – set a target of 60 million by 2030.
Tokyo is still building the infrastructure needed to ensure that the city can withstand its biggest ever influx of international tourists. Even so, there are question marks over its capacity to accommodate Olympics fans.
“As of present, certainly not,” says Alexandra Homma, editor of popular lifestyle and travel site Savvy Tokyo. “There is a need to increase everything – more hotels, wider trains, more seats – and have more space for people to move around.”
Lane thinks the city is on the right track, however. “Building the hotel room inventory to replace the inventory lost with the Airbnb crackdown is challenging, but there is currently a huge hotel construction boom.”
Book as soon as you can
“Exactly how far ahead you should book depends on which sports you go to see,” says June Kawahara, a foreign press coordinator and journalist for local newspaper Sankei Shimbun. “In some case this should be over a year in advance, as some of the games are going to be held in Tokyo suburbs, where unfortunately there are not enough hotels.”
“If you think you are booking early enough, you aren’t,” says Vlisides. “Tokyo is notorious for having most, if not all, of its reasonable accommodation booked up months in advance.”
This is especially so if it coincides with a Japanese holiday or event, she says. “You need to be aware of this and book earlier than you usually would if you want to have optimal choices for price or accommodation.”
Be prepared to pay full price
Higher demand for rooms means you are less likely to find discounted rates. “If you find anything under US$300 per night, you’ll be doing well,” says Lane.
“If you do have the option, go for somewhere with a little bit more space or a place that has a nice lounge. The summer heat in Tokyo can be oppressive, so you'll probably need at least a small relaxing timeout each day.”
Those wanting to save money can look beyond traditional hotels. “Hostels in Japan are a definite bright spot – especially the newly constructed ones,” says Lane.
“Places like Kaisu in Akasaka offer an affordable place to sleep, but everything about them is quality. They have high design standards, knowledgeable staff and they consider the social needs of young foreign travellers rather than just providing a sleep capsule.”
Location is key, so do your homework
“When you stay in the centre of Tokyo, you have to think carefully about how far your hotel is from the stadium,” says Kawahara.
While staying close to the Olympic grounds is the most convenient option, given the city’s efficient transport network anywhere within 20 kilometres of the inner city neighbourhoods will be easy to access.
Kawahara recommends the upscale shopping areas of Ginza, Yaesu and Kyobashi. “Foreign travellers have a choice both of ‘cheap and clean’ class and luxury class here,” she says.
“Also, English- and some Asian-language staff are available at almost of all the hotels in these areas.”
Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akasaka and Roppongi are also foreigner-friendly and are well positioned in relation to many of the Olympic venues.
“If you can, ask a local to give you tips before booking,” says Homma. “For example, a lot of people book hotels in the Kabukicho area [red light district] thinking it’s Shinjuku, but it’s a slightly different Shinjuku. A bit of area knowledge is a must.” If you do not have a local contact, you can at least research the area and check its position on a map.
Five hotels to book for the Tokyo Olympics
To help make the booking process easier, here is a cross-section of international hotels with rooms still available for the 2020 games to suit different budgets.
The ANA Intercontinental: a luxury hotel positioned in central Akasaka. It is within walking distance of Tokyo Tower and The Imperial Palace and a one-minute walk from Tameike-Sanno Station, which offers easy access to the rest of Tokyo. For more details: anaintercontinental-tokyo.jp
The Peninsula Tokyo: this is another five-star option. Located in the Marunouchi district in central Tokyo and connected to the Hibiya subway station, it’s a 15-minute taxi ride from the New National Stadium, where the Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies, athletics and football events. For more details: peninsula.com
Tokyu Hotels: the company has 12 sites in the inner-city area alone, offering both budget-friendly and luxury options. For more details: tokyuhotelsjapan.com
Sakura House: it offers affordable longer term, semi-private housing and runs cultural events. “We’re planning to host unique events, so guests can experience Japanese culture during their free time between 2020 Games events,” says client relationship manager Takashi Nishimura. For more details: sakura-hotel.co.jp
Koe Hotel: The artistic Koe Hotel in Shibuya is a stylish lifestyle hub, merging accommodation with art, live music and fashion, and features a cafe catering to digital nomads and creative types. For more details: hotelkoe.com
Getting there: Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines and Jetstar fly direct from Hong Kong to Tokyo, with flights taking about four hours and 25 minutes.