Startup Connects Travelers with Short-Staffed Hotels

Jiji Press
A participant in the Otetsutabi program works at the Tagaogi ryokan inn in Yamanakako, Yamanashi Prefecture, on July 1.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — A new type of travel is spreading in Japan, in which tourists help out at hotels for money and enjoy sightseeing, as the industry struggles to secure workers amid a post-pandemic tourism recovery.

A startup is offering a service to refer travelers to short-staffed accommodation facilities willing to offer free-of-charge stays in exchange for work.

In July, a freelance worker in his 20s was seen working hard serving breakfast, cleaning up and restocking guest room amenities at Tagaogi, a “ryokan” Japanese-style inn facing Lake Yamanaka in Yamanakako, Yamanashi Prefecture.

“I can get to know more about the place by working,” said the traveler, who visited a restaurant recommended by a local resident as well as Oshinohakkai spring-fed ponds at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

The traveler and the ryokan were connected by a service, called Otetsutabi. Tagaogi struggled to find workers from nearby areas, but by using Otetsutabi, it found more people than it needed who wanted to work for stays.

Tetsuhiro Yamaguchi of Tagaogi said he hopes to get through August, the busiest time of a year, by using Otetsutabi.

At Otetsutabi’s website, accommodation operators post job offers on a weekly to 10-day basis. As of July, the number of registered operators expanded by some 1.5-fold from a year before to 528.

“We want to create a future where a person can play multiple roles and support local communities,” said Rina Nagaoka, CEO of the Otetsutabi operator.

According to a monthly survey of hotels and ryokans by Teikoku Databank Ltd., a research company, the proportion of companies that said they were short of workers has increased even more since last autumn. This year, it has been at a high level of 70-80%.

Despite a recovery in travel demand, many people who left jobs in the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic did not return after finding jobs in other sectors.

Local governments have also taken steps to secure workers. The town government of Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture, known for hot springs and ski resorts, opened a website to post day job offers in July last year in partnership with a local startup.

“We want people to learn about the community and jobs by working on a trial basis,” a town government official in charge of the project said. The town hopes the service will lead to long-term employment and people moving into the town.

Mitsuo Fujiyama, a senior researcher at Japan Research Institute Ltd., said the use of short-term employment in the accommodation industry is an effective way to cope with differences between busy and low seasons. He added that it is important to create a better working environment through digitalization and raise wages as a basic solution to staffing shortages.