Junior Minister of Trade and Investment, Hon Marlon Penn zoomed on the Airbnb accommodation booking trend by noting that even some of the charter boats in the Territory are getting in the action and in the process robbing the BVI of taxes.
While debating the Cruise Permit (Amendment) Act in the House of Assembly on 29 May, Hon. Penn stated that he decided to peruse the Tortola offerings of the popular booking platform Airbnb and was surprised to see vessels listed as part of the suite of accommodation offerings.
In bringing the matter to the House’s attention Hon. Penn said: “I was scrolling through Airbnb. I said ‘let me look up the BVI,’ and here I see boats being advertised as rooms…in my very community of Hodges Creek close to my border constituency, I am sitting here looking at it right now. There is no mention of cruising permits; there is no mention of accommodation tax; there is no mention of any of these things. So they are using these things to circumvent the tax regime…”
The Junior Trade Minister said that he is concerned that some of these boat owners that are offering their vessel for accommodation via Airbnb don’t have the business licenses to venture into this line business. He noted that these vessel owners don’t pay BVI accommodation tax and don’t have trade licenses.
What’s worst, Hon. Penn stated is that these vessel owners are competing directly with villas operating legitimately: “They are competing with our villas in the market – avoiding paying accommodation tax, charging really hefty per night rates; some as high as $800 per night. All of these things are happening very much in plain sight.”
The Legislator who is also the Eighth District Minister called on his colleagues to look into the Airbnb boating accommodation practice: “It’s wrong and we need to really secure and ensure that those things are addressed…”
In suggesting how the matter might be addressed Hon. Penn said: “We need to really look at not just the fee structure, but the support that we need to give to Customs and other agencies as far as regulation. We need to have the mechanisms in place to sort of police this activity that is happening right underneath our noses…”
The Junior Minister repeated a call he made earlier in his legislative career for cyber patrolling. This is becoming necessary since it is noted that a great number of the contraventions are internet based these days: “I came into this House some time ago when we did the Cybercrime Bill, and I mentioned that we need cyber soldiers. Everybody laughed. But it’s a serious issue. A lot of the things that are happening now are happening on the internet – happening on the web.”
Hon. Penn added: “We need to be equipped to be able to tackle the issues that we are facing on the web. Many of our officers, to be frank, can’t even use Excel. We’ve done ourselves a disservice and done our officers a disservice. We are not equipping them to manage their department in a 21st century world.”