Airbnb law will be facilitative – TEF
Dr Carey Wallace, executive director of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), said the new laws to govern Airbnb accommodations in Jamaica will be designed to facilitate the industry’s growth as opposed to being onerous when they are passed.
Wallace was responding to questions following a panel discussion at a symposium organised by the Realtors’ Association of Jamaica in partnership with JN Bank at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James recently.
He explained that it was too early to say when the law would be passed. However, he added that based on research and consultations, all the issues which currently surround the discussion regarding the industry were being considered.
“To some extent, the new laws governing Airbnbs will seek to facilitate rather than regulate,” Wallace said.
“In the past, whenever we regulated, these rules were viewed as being heavy-handed. Therefore, we should take a facilitative approach because we want this aspect of tourism to grow as the market dictates,” he added.
Airbnb is an online marketplace which connects people who want to rent out their homes with persons who are looking for accommodation in that locale. It currently covers more than 81,000 cities and 191 countries worldwide.
Data from Airbnb Latin America and the Caribbean show that Jamaica currently has more than 3,100 active hosts and 5,900 active listings of short-term rental properties, and last year, it was estimated that some 89,500 guests used Airbnbs across the country.
The TEF director pointed out that passing a law to govern the industry is challenging, given the complexity and novelty of the platform, which has changed tourism accommodation globally.
“The Airbnb concept has taken many of the sub-sectors in Jamaica by surprise, to some extent, because the laws in place are not geared to handle such a concept,” he explained.
“Therefore, a lot of assessment, deliberations and consultations are required. As a result, we are still at it in terms of crafting a document which will govern the sector and will be up-to-date with the technology and the times,” he added.
The TEF executive noted that the Airbnb industry in Jamaica had grown exponentially since 2015, with more hosts being added annually. He said this growth has created multiple challenges because unlike traditional accommodation, such as hotels, Airbnbs are not subject to stringent regulations as the laws have not been updated.
“We are grappling with the issue of ensuring that regulations are fair and equitable across the board for both traditional accommodation and Airbnbs. Second, we need to ensure standards. Tourism in Jamaica is in a situation where if a tourist gets hurt or becomes ill while staying in any type of accommodation, it affects Jamaica as a brand. Therefore, it is in our interest to ensure that some basic standards are met,” he affirmed.
“We can’t hold Airbnbs to the standards of 800-room hotels. At the same time, we want to ensure that there are standards. Some of the platforms already recommend certain facilities, such as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and that there is insurance for guests and hosts. Hopefully, the regulations won’t be that far off,” Wallace said.