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J'cans tap gay online rental market - Misterb&b seen as opportunity to diversify income

Published:Friday | June 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM

As Jamaicans tap into the online rental market for business through platforms such as Airbnb they are slowly becoming more amenable to a side of the market that is largely shunned domestically gay travellers.

Some landlords and property owners are open to visitors through applications such as misterb&b, which caters to gays.

Still, it is not a big market by any measure. The number of local rooms available remains low at nine, but it grew from five two months ago Comparatively, Airbnb offers more than 1,000 listings across Jamaica.

The misterb&b site prides itself on listings, which offer "tips to stay like a gay local". Those hosts with whom Sunday Business spoke said offering the service complements the regular bed and breakfast offering.

"We don't do it only for the money," said one host, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Rooms for gay visitors are listed across the island ranging from US$60 upwards, compared with Airbnb, which offers rooms for as low as US$20.

The theme of offering a 'safe space' was mirrored by other hosts, but all asked to remain anonymous for this story. It underscores the discreet service these listings offer within Jamaica, seen as a homophobic hot spot.

The most recent anti-gay furore surrounded the Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte tweeting that raising the gay rainbow flag at the US Embassy last week was disrespectful of Jamaican laws although she gave no legal rationale. The act of buggery that is, anal sex remains illegal, but there are no explicit laws against homosexuality.

Director of Tourism Paul Pennicook says that travel apps, whether catering to straight travellers or gays, do not need to channel activity through the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB).

"The JTB has no jurisdiction over the creation of travel apps," said Pennicook in a response facilitated through the JTB marketing department. "The JTB has no direct relationship with Airbnb nor misterb&b.

There are numerous online entities that provide travel services such as air, accommodation, ground transfer, etc. to the travelling public, but these services are not, nor are they required, to be channelled through the JTB."

The local gay lobby group, J-FLAG, provisionally endorsed the move as it offers safe spaces to gays.

"Anything that creates a safe space for travellers is a good thing, assuming that the app and the people renting have good intentions," said a spokeswoman at J-FLAG.

"I am a lesbian and if I am travelling I know that not all places are friendly to the LGBT community. So on the face of it, it would seem as a good thing," she said.

The spokeswoman, who also requested anonymity, said she would want the app service to be more inclusive of lesbians.

Misterb&b launched in 2013 primarily to allow gay men to secure gay-friendly rentals. Misterb&b offers 55,000 rentals in 130 countries and is not affiliated or associated with Airbnb.

The site came about after co-founder Matthieu Jost encountered mixed experiences while renting on travel sites. He recalled a most uncomfortable host in Barcelona four years ago whose hostility sparked the impetus for the site.

"Upon arrival, the host felt not comfortable with gay men staying in her home. She even asked 'Are you going to sleep in the same bed?'" according to information on the rental site.

From that experience, Jost misterb&b's chief executive officer decided a short-term rental service by and for gay men was needed to help provide safety and community for travellers.