Out of control
An out of control unregistered accommodation sector, including the increasingly lucrative Airbnb, will “water down” the Barbados tourism product, one hotelier has charged.
General Manager of Sugar Bay Barbados Beach Resort Morgan Seale believes these homestay programmes must be held to the same standards as the rest of the accommodation sector and regulation is the only way to achieve this.
“I think it is important to make sure that while we should cater to all markets and attempt a drive for them, that we do not water down the product or the experience by providing cheap accommodation. And one of our concerns at the moment, which we are insisting get the attention that is needed, is the Airbnb [short-term home rental] sector,” Seale told Barbados TODAY.
With over two million listings in 191 countries, Airbnb is the largest of these community marketplaces where people list their homes or apartments for easy online booking for short-term lodging.
These accommodations are normally much cheaper than hotels, and have grown in popularity in recent years, biting into the profits of the formal sector.
Hotelier have been lobbying for the regulation of these rental platform, and New York City has made it illegal for anyone to rent out a whole apartment on Airbnb for fewer than 30 days, after politicians and tenants’ rights groups complained the company had made it harder to find affordable housing in the city.
As the authorities here seek to introduce upgraded regulations for the accommodation sector –– with similar guidelines for restaurants and attractions –– in order to bring them in line with best practices and international standards, Seale made reference to a story in Barbados TODAY last week in which a Canadian couple complained of being cheated of their security deposit for accommodation booked online.
While no reference was made to Airbnb at the time, Seale suggested the property had been listed on the short-term home rental service’s platform.
“We are really quite keen to make sure that situations like what happen last week in the paper with an Airbnb host and guest does not happen on a regular basis because of the fact that it really does not do brand Barbados any good whatsoever. In fact, it is very detrimental to us because those stories go into to the press and they don’t discriminate between hotels and Airbnb, they just see that Barbados is a destination that perhaps is not what it used to be when they hear about rats, et cetera. And we cannot allow those situations to do our tourism industry, which is the main driver of our economy, harm,” he said.
Seale said in addition to the risks, the properties were not operating on a level playing field, thus hurting the formal accommodation sector.
This appears to be supported by Smith Travel Research (STR), the American company that tracks supply and demand data for multiple market sectors, including hotels.
According to STR, while the Caribbean reported increased arrivals, the hotel sector recorded a fall in occupancy, attributing this to the sharing economy, which includes the homestay programmes.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Rudy Grant confirmed that new guidelines were being drafted, to include regulation of the short-term rental programmes.
However, stating that the issue went far beyond Airbnb, Grant told Barbados TODAY it was critical that the entire accommodation sector be regulated to ensure they all meet minimum international standards.
“It is important that we take the necessary measures to ensure that we have the standards administered by the Barbados Tourism Product Authority, which is the competent authority dealing with those types of issues. It is really bigger than the Airbnb. It relates to having the appropriate regulation for unregistered accommodation,” Grant said.
“I think there is an urgent need for the regulations. Certainly the faster this is done the better it would be overall for Barbados, the brand Barbados we have to ensure that nothing is done to negatively impact,” the BHTA executive added. (MM)