Wed | Sep 18, 2019

JHTA: Airbnb not just a small man’s hustle

Published:Saturday | July 6, 2019 | 12:23 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.
Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.

WESTERN BUREAU:

With rates ranging from US$10 to US$4,140 per night, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) is contending that local Airbnb-type operators cannot be considered as “just a small man’s hustle”.

JHTA President Omar Robinson, in a stinging response to criticisms levelled against the association since it called for a minimum payment of tax by the shared economy, said that while the industry includes a number of small and modest properties, some facilities are very large and luxurious.

Airbnb is an online platform that allows persons to arrange or offer lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences.

“Let us, therefore, dispel this view that Airbnb-type businesses are just a small man’s hustle! Some very significant businesses and individuals are invested in Airbnb-type ventures,” Robinson said in a media release on Thursday.

APPLYING THE RULE OF LAW

He said that the difference between JHTA members and the Airbnb operators is that the hoteliers are playing by the rules while hundreds of others are not. He said that JHTA members had invested time and effort to have their businesses registered with the Jamaica Tourist Board and comply with all the safety regulations and tax laws applicable in Jamaica.

“Given the fact that our members are required by law to comply with the operating guidelines related to fire, health, and security protocols, we feel strongly that anyone else who represents themselves as being legitimate operators in the accommodation space should also have to abide by even a minimum set of rules that will provide their guests and the country with assurances of their safety and security capabilities.”

The JHTA president said that by not applying the rule of law across the board, the Government finds itself complicit due to its inaction.

The JHTA is suggesting a US$1.00 per night cess under the ‘Guest Accommodation Room Tax’ (GART) from the shared-economy operators when their places are occupied. Currently, the accommodation sector is required to pay US$4.00 per night under the GART.

According to Robinson, who is in his fourth stint as president of the JHTA, in all their discussions surrounding the Airbnb-type subsector, the JHTA has consistently said that the Government must not seek to over-regulate the industry “as we understand how hard it is for businesses (particularly the small ones) to operate in an atmosphere of government overreach”.

The debate on Airbnb is not limited to Jamaica and is raging across the world due to the pros and cons of these platforms to the formal accommodation sector and the major impact they are having on the availability of affordable housing for the local population, stated Robinson.

He notes that avoiding having a sensible debate about it amounts to sticking heads in the sand and will not help in addressing the issues.

There are 117 JHTA accommodation members, 42 of which are small and mainly non-all-inclusive properties.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com