The Ministry of Finance is being advised to ensure there is clarity on what comprises the informal accommodation sector before imposing taxes on those involved in the programme.
The unregistered lodging sector has been generating an increasing amount of interest among the formal sector, as a rising number of visitors choose homestay programmes such as Airbnb over hotels.
This has prompted calls for regulation and taxation of the short-term accommodation providers.
However, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy warned at a recent news conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre that the authorities must tread carefully.
“I know the Ministry of Finance is keen to get tax revenue. But again before you can tax something you have to find out what it is. It is not simply the case of just saying, ‘all these people are using the Internet to provide accommodation and it is happening outside of the tax net’. Some of these people are normal hotels that are just using it to get business. So we have to do some analysis and go from there,” Sealy insisted.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association Rudy Grant confirmed earlier this month that new guidelines were being drafted, to include regulation of the short-term rental programmes.
Yet, Grant told Barbados TODAY the issues went far beyond Airbnb, and it was critical that the entire accommodation sector be regulated to ensure they all meet minimum international standards.
At the same time, General Manager of Sugar Bay Barbados Beach Resort Morgan Seale insisted homestay programmes must be held to the same standards as the rest of the accommodation sector and regulation was the best way to achieve this.
However, Sealy said while he was aware that the Barbados Tourism Product Authority, Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc and the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc were “examining the advent of Airbnb” with regulation in mind, it was “a little complicated” issue that required careful analysis before any remedies were prescribed.
“It is not a simple issue. I know some people have gone public making statements that I don’t necessarily know I can agree or disagree with in the absence of some proper research being done on it. It is a reality in Barbados, yes, but it is also something that has in many ways dovetailed with a huge part of our accommodation plant.
“We have always had these guesthouses all over the place that have being doing business for years. Many of them are unregistered [and] many of them are attached to people’s homes and so on. I guess we need to do some proper analysis on the whole thing,” the minister stressed.
There are some 1,100 Barbadian homeowners who have listed their properties on Airbnb’s website.
The online accommodation marketplace is said to have attracted about 16,000 visitors, or just over two per cent of the total 631,520 tourists to the island last year.