The over 1,000 Airbnb hosts in Barbados now have a voice to fight on their behalf for “fair” and “positive” legislation.
Founder of the Barbados Entrepreneurship & Tourism Association (BETA) Neeraj Vensimal said that organization, which was officially formed at the end of March, would be stepping forward to give its input on any legislation that would impact the home-sharing programme operators here.
Local hotel operators have been calling for tighter controls on the unregistered accommodation sector, including the increasingly lucrative Airbnb, saying they stood to “water down” the Barbados tourism product.
The Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA) has since confirmed that new guidelines are being drafted to include regulation of the short-term rental programmes with a view to ensuring that the entire accommodation sector meet all minimum international standards.
However, as representatives of BETA prepare to meet with BTPA officials on Monday to put the association’s position on the table, Vensimal argued that any new regulation should take into consideration the performance of the overall housing market on the island.
As for the vexed issue of taxation, he said a proper assessment should first be carried out before any new levy was applied.
“Another thing we need to consider, these are private listings with each host earning only about US$5,000 in annual income,” he said, while making it clear that the grouping was not looking for any concessions.
Vensimal, who was addressing a press conference today at the Stream bar and restaurant in Worthing Christ Church said the organization was seeking to help create an enabling environment for Airbnb and other hosts.
“The reason we represent them is because they don’t have a platform or voice to get their message out. But that is not the main reason we represent them. The main reason we represent them because we all believe in the slogan, ‘Tourism is our business, let’s play our part’ and in our national motto Pride and Industry,” he said.
With close to three million listings in over 190 countries, Airbnb is the largest of the short-term rental programmes where people list their homes or apartments for easy online booking.
Vensimal gave the assurance that while BETA was yet to come up with its own set of standards and guidelines, the approximately 1,100 listings in Barbados were already operating at a higher standard than some local hotels, based on customer ratings.
He explained that Airbnb hosts averaged 4.7 out of five stars, based on scores from visitors who stayed at their properties, while 4.2 was the average score for hotels.
“It is really important to note that this deals with both product and hospitality,” he said.
In direct response to concerns that Airbnb was negatively affecting “brand Barbados”, Vensimal said that was simply not the case since all hosts could be considered “brand ambassadors”.
“If you are trying to protect the guests, the guests are rating us higher than hotels as it currently stands in the absence of any regulation,” he added.