Editorial

Airbnb: Fee on short-term rentals could boost community security, health

Thursday, February 21, 2019

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Individuals like Ms Sandra Watson-Garrick, the CEO of the Real Estate Board (REB), are wasting their time resisting the phenomenal growth of short-term rentals fuelled by companies like Airbnb, Booking.com, Trip Advisor, and Expedia, among others.

The new tourism concept is bringing visitors to vacation in unlikely places such as Trench Town, West Kingston, but also to nicely developed places like Caribbean Estate near Portmore, St Catherine, and elsewhere across Jamaica.

In the early stages, the ultra-affordable home-sharing activity was largely driven by students who, though burdened by student loans, still wanted access to the finer things of life, such as travel. It subsequently became attractive to lower-income persons wanting vacations previously affordable only to the well-to-do.

Through Airbnb and other online listing companies one can rent an apartment or a hotel room for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month. Even owners of private jets are renting out their aircraft during downtime and these rentals are available at phenomenally low prices for even high quality properties.

Airbnb, for example, in 2017 — 10 year after start-up — was managing over three million lodging listings in 65,000 cities and 191 countries. In that same year, Jamaica recorded approximately 55,000 Airbnb bookings across the island, with hosts in the Corporate Area earning an estimated US$2.4 million.

Trench Town, of all places, is a draw for fans of the Third World's first megastar — reggae legend Bob Marley — whose music originated out of its squalid conditions, rising to dizzying heights in places like Buckingham Palace, England, where it is said reggae is loved by Prince Charles.

As with nearly all major changes, there are detractors, and the traditional hospitality and real estate markets are no different, viewing the new entrant as an unwelcome intruder. REB's Watson-Garrick and Realtors Association of Jamaica's Howard Johnson are among the naysayers.

“The challenge is that some proprietors and some executive committees (of strata communities) think that there's a security risk; they just see persons turn up in the scheme. They don't know who they are. They're there for a short time…” Watson-Garrick is quoted as saying.

Added Johnson: “It is an extensive amount of the strata complexes that I manage that have issues for persons with short-term rentals and the remedy that they're seeking is to change their by-laws.”

Some of the complaints maybe justified, but the approach should not be to try to reverse a trend which is beneficial to the country and which the world over has embraced. There is clear need for regulation of the emerging sector, as with any other, perhaps under the Rent Act in this case.

Community associations, rather than be torn apart, should sit together and work out the solutions to any foreseeable problems. It is also conceivable that a fee akin to a head tax, supported by the Tourism Enhancement Fund, could be used to boost security and health programmes in these communities hosting short-term rentals.

Kicking against the prick is never the answer.


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