Don’t over regulate sharing economy, Govt told

An advocacy group for Barbadians who offer their homes to visitors through the home share programme Airbnb is warning Government that overregulation of the sharing economy would be counterproductive.

Speaking against the background of a recommendation by airline consultant and former American Airline employee Tom Bacon that regional governments should not fight tourism industry “disruptors” such as Airbnb, Uber and TripAdvisor, the Barbados Entrepreneurship and Tourism Association (BREA) said over regulation would make it difficult for ordinary Barbadians to play a part in the growth of the sector.

With a rising number of visitors choosing homestay programmes such as Airbnb over hotels, the formal sector has been calling for regulation and taxation of the short-term accommodation providers, something Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy has warned against for the time being.

Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association Rudy Grant has also confirmed that new guidelines were being drafted to include regulation of the short-term rental programmes.

However, BETA President Neeraj Vensimal Friday warned in a statement to Barbados TODAY that the world of accommodation was changing, especially through the use of online platforms such as Airbnb, and Government must “heed international advice to become more relevant to modern tourism markets” if the country were to remain a leader in the hospitality and tourism sector.

Vensimal made reference to Caribbean countries such as Aruba, Grenada, Jamaica and the United States Virgin Islands which had signed partnership agreements with Airbnb, to press his case for  Barbados to “create an enabling environment for the company from both a regulatory and taxation standpoint in order for Trips to be launched here first”.

Trip is an Airbnb initiative that allows local experts, including chefs, to take tourists on excursions and tours, including food tasking and surfing.

The BETA founder argued that Bridgetown should capitalize on every advantage it had, including culture and heritage tourism, and promote the safety of the destination in order to stay “a step ahead of the competition”.

“Unique and authentic experiences can be offered to visitors by partnering with Airbnb to highlight our culture to Airbnb’s approximately 200 million traveller base,” he said, adding that some local experiences could include breadfruit roasting, road tennis, heritage tours and nature hikes.

“When you think about it, a walking tour through one of the safest cities in the Caribbean is waiting for visitors in the Bridgetown we all know and love. Not every city can offer that opportunity. Airbnb’s cultural experiences and immersions product Trips offers opportunities for all Barbadians to earn meaningful incomes and foreign exchange for Barbados based on their hobbies and passion. People who may not have the space to host in their homes can now create an experience to host their passion,” he explained.

Stating that the industry was “moving ahead with or without us”, Vensimal stressed “there will be winners and losers and it’s important that Barbados is a winner”. 

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