Boom in convenience seen as firms gear up for Olympic profits

Japanese companies are accelerating preparations to seize Olympic business opportunities to ensure money will keep rolling in after the quadrennial sporting spectacle ends in 2020.

“The mission for the business community is to realize the expected economic effects,” said Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), the nation’s largest business lobby.

Many of the businesses are focusing on new services that can increase convenience.

In the telecommunications industry, for example, testing is underway to showcase a fifth-generation wireless technology dubbed 5G that boasts higher speed and data transmission capacity.

The 5G Wi-Fi advance is expected to be the main technology for distributing high-definition broadcasts and communications services in every aspect of life, including when traveling, industry sources said.

In the lodging industry, supply and demand for rooms is expected to get even tighter for the 2020 Games. This has prompted an increasing number of companies to jump into the minpaku (private lodging) sector, Japan’s version of the room rental services provided by websites like Airbnb.

After the Diet enacted a law on minpaku regulations in June, cybermall Rakuten Inc. announced last month that it would launch minpaku operations as early as January.

“We want to provide innovative services designed to connect people aiming to offer accommodation facilities with those hoping to utilize them,” a Rakuten official said.

Apartment chain Leopalace21 Corp. is also considering a minpaku project.

But the hotel industry is looking to capitalize as well.

Last year, Prince Hotels Inc. rebuilt the venerable Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka, formerly known as the Akasaka Prince, and plans to renovate eight additional Tokyo properties by 2020. In fiscal 2019, it plans to open a more reasonably chain under the Prince Smart Inn brand, charging ¥10,000 per night.

In the transportation industry, meanwhile, the number of van taxis is expected to jump as the Tokyo Hire-Taxi Association moves to replace 10,000 of its roughly 30,000 standard cabs in Tokyo with vehicles that can accommodate groups.

The railways are also boosting efforts by improving barrier-free access and locker services.

Last year, Tokyo Metro Co. began offering temporary storage services for big suitcases that won’t fit in the subway stations’ coin-operated lockers. Given the strong demand, Tokyo Metro is now considering making it a permanent service, an official said.

In the booming realm of big data, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. group plans to collect and analyze reams of data on foreign visitors, including information on how they move around the city, for “wider use.”

More izakaya (traditional pubs) are meanwhile expected to introduce new smartphone-based payment services by the time the Olympics start.

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