Airbnb Rentals In Bvi Under Scrutiny

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Months after giving the call for vigilance on entities such as popular accommodation platform AirBnB, Premier and Minister for Finance and Tourism Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith has softened his view on not only AirBnB, but other similar booking sites.

However, while Hon. Smith is no longer pushing for more attention to AirBnB’s rapid Caribbean expansion, Chairman of the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association (BVICCHA), Louis Potter is calling for more cooperation between AirBnB and the local accommodation sector.

Both Mr. Potter and Premier Smith spoke with The Island Sun newspaper about the subject of the AirBnB phenomena in the Caribbean and the BVI in an interview. Both agreed that more information on the Air BnB operation and possible partnership is needed.

AirBnB was described by Wikipedia as “a peer-to-peer online marketplace and homestay network that enables people to list or rent short-term lodging in residential properties, with the cost of such accommodation set by the property owner.”

The platform is a competitor to traditional accommodation and the Caribbean Hotel Association has been at the forefront of striking a balance on the phenomena in the region. It is in this vein that Mr. Potter announced that the BVICCHA is pleased that the Director General and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA),  Frank J. Comito is coming to the BVI.

In mentioning the visit the BVICCHA Chairman said: “They (CHTA) has been following and discussing this and since the Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association is coming to the BVI we thought it would be a good idea for him to discuss the issue, and explain to us; so that the local businesses could get a better sense. And they (CHTA) can get a better sense of their (BVI stakeholders) thinking on the issue.”

AirBnB has had quite a few negative developments with dishonest people using the organization for renting non-existent apartments to travelers and tourists. The matter has received wide media coverage in Europe and elsewhere and this can be easily verified with an internet search engine of platforms like Google.

It was noted that Mr. Comito will be speaking at a BVICCHA luncheon on 16 May at Maria’s By Sea; the stakeholders would be eager to get clarity on the Air BnB rentals in the BVI and related feedback floating on the net. Mr. Potter said that stakeholders would also be able to weigh whether the company poses a threat to their business: “We need to understand specifically how it impacts the business space. Whether or not they (AirBnB) will be carrying their fair share of things like taxes. You know the regular hotels must contribute to the BVI development and if they are going to come in we want to understand how they are going to interface and continue towards the development of the country; and what we should be doing to make sure that the BVI get a fair deal from that process,” the BVICCHA Chairman said.

“It is about educating us and taking what measures we can take to make sure that BVI businesses are protected and BVI get its fair share. We will be willing to explore whether or not it is in our best interest, and I believe it would be in our best interest; because it is always good to have an arrangement as opposed to having something loose out there,” he explained.

Further the BVICCHA Chair said that he believes that the Territory will be willing to work with AirBnB to ensure that they comply with the rules of the BVI.

He also noted that the Chamber is aware that AirBnB has been operating in the Territory. However, he said that the BVICCHA has not received a large volume of objections:  “I understand that there is a fair volume of AirBnB business going on and I’ve heard conversations from some persons I wouldn’t say it is a very loud scream but I’ve heard complaints.” In other countries citizens and residents who own apartments are the users of the AirBnB platform; complaints about tax evasion on the part of those who rent through Air BnB have been recorded in a number of countries.

The AirBnB concern in 2016

Cost appears to be the key factor in consumer’s choice between traditional accommodations and AirBnB. When we first reported on the subject last year we noted that on booking websites, such as Expedia.com a two-bedroom villa in Cane Garden Bay, Tortola was quoted at $240 per night; while a two-bedroom villa in Cane Garden Bay, Tortola was quoted on AirBnB for $135 per night.

Last year Premier Smith publicly spoke about the AirBnB platform and noted his concerns on the matter. While speaking in the House of Assembly on October 13 the Premier noted the challenges posed by the online booking site and the competition it drives.

In our interview on 29 April Premier Smith softened his tone on the AirBnB matter and said that the company provides a promotional service: “I think it is an opportunity to promote our businesses, and that is what they (AirBnB) are doing.”

In fact, Hon. Smith said that from a government standpoint the issue is how to deal with the businesses who deal with AirBnB in terms of their responsibility to Government is the main reason to be discussed.

Regional and International Airbnb Viewpoint

The rapid expansion of AirBnB services in the region has been described as disruptive to the tourism sector and was even discussed at the 14-16 September State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC) that was held in Barbados. The conference also featured AirBnB’s regional manager for the Caribbean Mikel Freemon as a panelist.

The regional concerns about sites like AirBnB is supported by the fact that the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) stated that by February 2016, AirBnB reported more than 25,000 listings in the Caribbean.

However, in a commentary Hugh Riley the Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Tourism Organization announced that the entire impact of websites such as AirBnB on traditional hotels is yet to be determined.

“Reports released in 2016 by Goldman Sachs and Smith Travel Research indicated mixed findings. STR suggests that there has been little impact, while the Goldman Sachs report reveals there has been a negative impact,” he added

Last February “The Sun” reported that fraudsters are conning innocent holidaymakers out of thousands of pounds by posting fake listings on the peer-to-peer accommodation site, AirBnB. The criminals are placing fake adverts on the site, using stolen photos from genuine properties and fabricating descriptions of the homes. Families are in many cases falling for the scams, but AirBnB won’t always offer protection to those who are left out of pocket.

A businessman told “The Mail” how he booked a villa in Ibiza and paid the “owner” £3,371 for a nine-night stay for his family, sending the money by bank transfer because the owner had told him AirBnB’s payment system was broken.

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