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Airbnbs urged to submit to industry monitoring

Published:Tuesday | January 7, 2020 | 12:34 AM
This plaza located in Hopewell, Hanover, also houses 10 Airbnb units.
This plaza located in Hopewell, Hanover, also houses 10 Airbnb units.

Forensic accountant Collin Greenland says that homeowners offering their private space as Airbnb facilities should subject their properties to basic monitoring standards by registering with the relevant local government entities.

“In view of the exemption given to the major players, I would say to each person if you are going that route with your property, You don’t want a foreigner to go rent a place and then he is subjected to sexual harassment or crime,” said Collin Greenland. “I would say register your property with TPDCo (Tourism Product Development Company) or the Tourist Board. Subject yourself to basic standards.”

Airbnb is an online platform that allows persons to arrange or offer lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences.

Jamaica has approximately 10,000 short-term rentals listed currently and welcomed about 89,000 visitors in 2018 – 39,000 more bookings for Airbnb stays than the previous year, with an average spend of US$2,600.

Executives of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) have been lobbying for the Government to regulate the local Airbnb operators, but the Jamaica Home Sharing Association, which represents the hospitality sector newcomers, is calling for a sit-down to discuss the issues.

“Due to the unique nature of the home-sharing/Airbnb business, we would want to negotiate on behalf of our members for an arrangement,” said Sherie-Ann Anderson, president of the Home Sharing Association. “Ultimately we are willing to work with all stakeholders involved to do what is best of all parties involved.”

“Overall, we want a win-win situation where tourism entrepreneurs are still able to operate their business and have a source of income,” she continued. “Taxation is also a topic we will cover in our webinars.”

Efforts to contact Edmund Bartlett, the minister of tourism, were unsuccessful, but a source at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) who was not authorised to speak to the media told The Gleaner that work is being done to address the issue.

“It’s not something we are ignoring, and we recognised the importance of that sector to the industry, but it is something that has to take into account the new developments in the global business arrangements as a result of technology,” the source said. “All we are trying to say is, because the base is so wide, it requires far more studies in relation to know how to apply and to make it equitable.”

“It’s a far more complicated matter than to quarrel about two guests down in Trench Town, whose back room is being used for Airbnb,” the technocrat explained.

However, Mark Golding, the opposition spokesman on finance, believes the issue must be approached with caution.

“In terms of regulation, we have to be careful as well. Regulation usually comes with a heavy cost on the regulated entity, a lot of requirements, which is also very bureaucratically imposed and administered by the public sector.”

“So, unless there is an immediate problem that is serious enough to warrant regulation, I would say, ‘Let the industry grow organically without any adverse action,’” Golding said.

– Mark Titus and Albert Ferguson