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Japan aims to increase wheelchair accessible hotels before 2020

This photo taken on Aug. 9, 2018, shows a bathroom of a wheelchair friendly barrier-free guest room in The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioichio hotel in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government aims to increase the number of hotels with wheelchair accessible rooms ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

Under the plan, operators of newly built hotels and inns with 50 or more rooms will be required beginning in September 2019 to have a minimum 1 percent of wheelchair friendly rooms, compared with a minimum one such room under the current regulations. Both the current and planned new regulations do not apply to existing facilities.

Tokyo has come up with the plan as efforts to make hotels accessible to wheelchair users have lagged significantly behind similar moves at public transportation facilities.

Statistics by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry show 87.2 percent of the country's train stations and airports used daily by 3,000 or more passengers were accessible to wheelchair users as of March 2017.

However, only 32 percent of some 600 surveyed hotels and inns had rooms for wheelchair users, and most of them just one, in 2017.

The government defines a wheelchair accessible guestroom as having an entrance at least 80 centimeters wide and a barrier-free bathroom.

Critics say it is unclear whether the new standards will significantly improve hotel accessibility for wheelchair users since they will not cover existing facilities.

In an effort to prompt hotel operators to provide more wheelchair accessible rooms, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Japan Tourism Agency subsidize costs to renovate rooms to make them barrier-free.

But a metropolitan government official said some hotels in Tokyo are reluctant to renovate because their facilities have been enjoying high occupancy rates amid a growing number of foreign tourists to the capital.

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