The United Progressive Party (UPP) is leaving no doubt where it stands on homestay programmes such as Airbnb, telling a public meeting in West Terrace, St James at the weekend that the informal visitor accommodation platform was one of the few remaining avenues by which locals can get their share of the tourism pie.
With over three million listings in 191 countries, Airbnb is a leading accommodation provider in the unregistered lodging sector, which has been generating an increasing amount of interest among the formal sector, as a rising number of visitors choose homestay programmes over hotels.
This has prompted calls for regulation and taxation of the short-term accommodation providers here.
However, the UPP’s spokesperson on tourism Christal Austin said there was no need for such fuss, as the current tourism model of all-inclusive packages has resulted in the majority of the population being left out.
“We have pandered to this thing for too long and I don’t understand why we are pushing back against Airbnb. I know there are people in West Terrace that are listed on Airbnb. The Government is pushing against that because we like to continue doing things the old time way, but that is only until Jamaica or Trinidad does it really well then we want to copy. I am saying to you tonight that the type of activity where you host visitors in your homes is what our tourism sector needs,” Austin said.
“In tourism, the money is no longer coming in the pockets of Barbadians. You have a situation where the tourism industry is structured in a way that people are buying packages overseas, fully paid up and then they’re coming here with their long hands and enjoying the destination. By doing it this way the money isn’t coming in to the communities. Ask anybody that usually gives you US dollars if they have any. These days nobody has any US money and frankly neither does the Central Bank because the tourism sector is badly structured,” she added.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association Rudy Grant had said in March that new guidelines were being drafted, to include regulation of the short-term rental programmes.
Yet, Grant told Barbados TODAY then that 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 had insisted that 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, Minister of Tourism Richard 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.
But as far as Austin is concerned, the homestay programme is beneficial because the average Barbadian in communities across the island benefits directly from it.
Yet, she argued that despite the availability of research which shows that visitors wanted authentic experiences, community involvement in tourism was absent in the accommodation sector, as well as food and entertainment packages offered to visitors.
“We have to bring the visitors into our communities and give them authentic experiences, authentic Bajan food, show them our culture, teach them how to dance and how to roast breadfruit. These are the things that visitors want and again it is saddening for me because I have worked in the industry for the last 14 years and I know that they [Government] have the stats from the research showing this. So this is not something I am saying because of how I feel, we have the research to prove it. Visitors continue to lament that they come to Barbados yet they do not experience Barbados, they instead experience little England and copycat New York,” the UPP St James South candidate charged.
“We are going to be bringing the visitors to your community, getting the youth dance groups to come and dance as part of the entertainment and not just a man pretending to play piano with American tracks in the background. As a result of the short-sightedness of Government everyone is now trying to cut corners. So all of the live bands that we used to have years ago are now gone . . . our artist are out there getting involved in criminal activities because their talents are not being recognized,” Austin lamented.