Tue | Aug 20, 2019

Airbnb bookings spike - Jamaican hosts earn $1b in 2017

Published:Wednesday | February 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this December 2017 photo, Global Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Airbnb, Christopher Lehane (left), and Jamaica's Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, speak at a press conference.
In this November 14, 2016 photo, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett (left) is visited by Airbnb regional executives, Shawn Sullivan (centre) and Carlos Muñoz to discuss plans for a partnership with Jamaica.

Jamaican hosts earned more than a billion dollars through accommodations bookings website Airbnb last year, amid a 49 per cent rise in bookings that year, according to information provided by the American company.

The booking service allows tourists the opportunity for stays in local communities and cultural immersion, long seen as an underserved area of the market in a tourism sector populated by walled-off all-inclusive hotels.

"With over 3,100 active hosts and 5,900 active listings on the island, Jamaica continues to be one of Airbnb's largest and strongest markets in the Caribbean," said Carlos Munoz, director of public policy and government affairs for Airbnb in the Latin America and Caribbean.

"In 2017," he said, "our hosts in Jamaica earned approximately US$9.4 million, representing annual earnings of US$2,400 for a typical host."

That US$9.4 million translates to $1.2 billion in local currency at average exchange rates for that year. The figure is also higher than the estimate from Jamaica's Ministry of Tourism, which touted a significant rise in Airbnb earnings from US$5.8 billion in 2016 to US$8.6 million last year.

"In 2017, we saw a 49 per cent growth in the year-over-year rate of hosts who hosted at least one trip. Inbound guest arrivals rose by 65 per cent over 2016 to approximately 59,500," Munoz told the Financial Gleaner.

In 2016, the Jamaican government actively courted a partnership with the American booking platform, which resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding. Tourism officials were keen to develop the relationship, driven by the type of data that credited Airbnb for 200 million guest stays in 191 countries.

Just over a year later, real estate and tourism officials say the collaboration is proving to be a game-changer, but not everyone is welcoming of the business.

President of the Realtors Association of Jamaica, Howard Johnson Jr, told the Financial Gleaner that so popular has the facility become locally that he has been contacted by several strata management companies who have requested advice on how by-laws can be adjusted to limit the influx of guests.

That request was driven by fears that undesirables could negatively impact property values. But there is also a side of the property market that expects positive outcomes.

“There are mixed reactions to the Airbnb market. It’s a great opportunity for the consumer to get an experience and they can tailor their experience. However it has been disruptive. It has unlocked the potential for persons to purchase an apartment such as a two-bedroom two-bathroom unit in New Kingston for $18 million to $20 million and collect daily and weekly rentals,” Johnson told the Financial Gleaner.

That has led to new investments in real estate with a view to tapping into the short-term rental market, he noted.
At the same time, however: “A lot of owners in apartment complexes are complaining that they don’t know who are the people coming in and out, they are very disruptive over the three- or five-day period that they are there. Personally, as a property manager I have been asked to revisit by-laws for complexes that we manage so that persons do not abuse it. The change relates to restricting use of unit and common area for Airbnb and short-term persons,” he added.

The tourism ministry is itself pointing to positives regarding earnings, “almost all of which is pumped into the local economy”, according to Senior Adviser and Strategist Delano Seiveright in a statement sent last December.

Airbnb hosts are located throughout the island, but Munoz listed the most popular destinations as Kingston, Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios and the area around Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth.

“That said, Airbnb guests have visited every parish in Jamaica seeking new adventures and an authentic, local Jamaican experience,” he said.
The company expects more growth for Jamaica in 2018, having signed off on its ‘experiences’ product last December.

“In 2017, we launched our experiences, product, which will undoubtedly attract new tourists, who are looking to experience the food, music, and warm hospitality that Jamaicans are so famous for,” Munoz commented.
Jamaica now offers 15 experiences including art class, museum visits, Kingston dancehall, cooking classes, bar hop, guided hikes and snorkel lessons given by a marine biologist.

The food experience covers several categories, including learning Rastafarian cuisine, jerk by the river, and making chocolates with a chocolatier.

Airbnb said through ‘experiences’, it is now offering new access to local communities and interests.