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Peach becomes first Japanese airline to accept bitcoin

Peach Aviation, the low-cost Japanese carrier specialising in flights to north-east Asia, will become the country’s first airline to allow customers to pay directly for tickets using bitcoin. 

Peach is seeking to ride the still surging tide of tourist arrivals from China and South Korea and play on a fascination with bitcoin in Japan that has given rise to a series of marketing gimmicks.

The announcement follows changes to Japanese regulation earlier this year that legitimise the bitcoin crypto currency as a form of fund settlement and open the way to what the government hopes will be broader domestic investment in financial technology and innovation. The country’s formal recognition of bitcoin is also a necessary first step in efforts to control something it associates with money laundering and other crime, according to analysts of the bitcoin phenomenon.

Peach’s embrace of bitcoin, announced on Monday, follows similar decisions elsewhere in the world. The crypto currency has been accepted for several years as payment at airBaltic, the Latvian low-cost carrier, and Lot, the Polish carrier.

However, a number of plans by online retailers and travel agents to accept payments in the virtual currency have often stalled or failed altogether soon after being announced.

The decision by Shinichi Inoue, Peach chief executive, brings the carrier into a group of around 5,000 Japanese businesses that position themselves as strongly appealing to high-spending Chinese tourists and accepting the crypto currency through intermediary payment systems.

The move to accept bitcoin is designed to appeal particularly to Peach’s younger Chinese customers — who it says are both comfortable with bitcoin use and sensitive to movements in traditional currencies. The company said it was hoping to spread the use of bitcoin by pushing for tie-ups with local governments and companies. 

“We want to encourage visitors from overseas and the revitalisation of Japan’s regions,” said Mr Inoue, whose airline serves routes between about a dozen regional Japanese airports and about seven Asian destinations. 

Peach is controlled by Japan’s largest airline, ANA, which increased its stake in the low-cost carrier above 66 per cent earlier this year. Despite several years of effort, the penetration by Peach and other no-frills airlines remains far lower than the 20-30 per cent average in Europe. 

The Japanese government’s regulation of bitcoin includes a new licensing system for bitcoin exchanges and fund transfer companies. It is seen as one of the factors behind a recent series of price spikes that have taken the value of a single bitcoin over $2,100. The excitement could very quickly wear off, say exchange operators, if the authorities use regulation to raise the cost of bitcoin dealing.