Do you think online holiday letting agencies Airbnb and Stayz are different sides of the same coin? Well settle in for a verbal joust between the main players in the holiday letting industry who have given up all pretence of being “frenemies” and are now pitted against each other in a bitter war of words.
The recent battle began in the pages of hospitality industry website AccomNews, where Airbnb spokesperson Julian Crowley was give space for an editorial attacking the proposed register of holiday let properties.
Now, if you are reading this on Wednesday, September 11, and you want to make your opinions on NSW’s short-term letting regulations known, stop now, go to the end of this story, and click on the links to the Planning NSW portal.
Meanwhile, in the interest of full disclosure, here at Flat Chat we are not unbiased. We think if you must allow holiday lets in residential apartment blocks, they have to be registered.
Those of us who bought into these buildings did so on the understanding that they were homes, not hotels – and that was reflected in the planning approvals for many councils, such as City of Sydney, that specifically say the apartments must not be used for short-term letting.
I say this just to put into context any opinions that claim the moral high ground by saying restrictions on holiday lets are unfair on the owners and renters of those units.
And we don’t take sides in the Airbnb versus Stayz battle – except where one may be doing less harm to strata communities than the other.
So, back to Airbnb and their opposition to the register.
“There is a genuine risk of compulsory registration being complex, costly and time-consuming which will make it harder than it needs to be for people to share their space or home,’ writes Crowley in the AccomNews editorial.
“The manner in which the government announced such a significant policy reversal was jarring and undermined our community’s confidence in the integrity and fairness of the process.
“Registration had been considered and ultimately rejected at every previous step. Our community took the government at their word when they categorically ruled out registration, only to be left in the lurch.”
OK, as one of those left “in the lurch” when the state government decided to turn its back on decades of carefully considered and evolved planning laws, I have zero sympathy.
And Eacham Curry, the director of corporate affairs for Stayz, another holiday letting website, isn’t going to let that pass without comment, either.
“The power to enact a registration system for short-term rentals was included in the final legislative package that passed the NSW Parliament in Aug 2018,’ says Curry in his published response to the Airbnb editorial.
“Rather than a surprise, the Government’s intent has been clear for over 12 months. The NSW Government is now seeking to enact the powers that were given to it by the Parliament – powers that sat on the books well before, during and since the 2019 election.”
Booyah! Take that! But wait, Airbnb is coming off the ropes …
“Onerous registration is not the best way to achieve the government’s stated objectives of ensuring compliance and collecting data,’ says Crowley. “Both of these valid and important goals can be achieved without forcing hosts to navigate new red tape.
“In Tasmania, the government introduced a new data sharing framework which will ensure compliance and give authorities the data they need without burdening locals with new red tape.”
Red tape … red tape … the Trumpian mantra invoked to undermine restrictions on everything from industrial pollution to business high jinks, is littered through Airbnb press releases like measles in an anti-vax village.
Oh, and by the way, the lack of red tape has been so successful in Tasmania that the government is having to pay landlords cash subsidies to put their properties back into the residential letting pool, because of a serious homelessness crisis.
Stayz also disagrees. Curry writes, “a regulatory solution that is underpinned by a simple and compulsory registration system will improve amenity, provide certainty about the boundaries of the sector and ensure tourism remains an engine room of the state economy.”
Seems reasonable but hang on, Airbnb has some evidence to support their position.
“One potential explanation is the government is simply copying what a tiny minority of jurisdictions have done, ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of cities and towns welcome home sharing around the world, and see it as a way of empowering locals to make some money, and to grow tourism,” says the Airbnb flack.
OK, those are two unrelated propositions. It is possible to both have a register and to welcome home sharing (especially if the word “sharing” is used in its uncorrupted dictionary definition, meaning the person you are “sharing” with has actually met you).
My guess is that cities are more likely to welcome holiday letting if they know where it is, who’s running it and it’s not driving real locals into the suburbs.
But let’s look at that “tiny minority of jurisdictions”. Take Tokyo, where Airbnb listings dropped 80 per cent when a simple enforceable registration system exposed all the city’s dubious letting arrangements when it was introduced last year?
How complicated and unworkable was it? Holiday letting hosts had to get a registration number from their local council. The online agencies weren’t allowed to list a property that didn’t have a number. In other words, it’s about as hard as getting an Opal card, but Boom! The legal wheat is sorted from the illicit chaff.
Or take London where it was reported just a few weeks ago that a spokesman for Airbnb said: “We support proposals from the mayor of London for a registration system to help local authorities regulate short-term lets and ensure rules are applied equally to hosts on all platforms …”
So it’s okay for London but not for Sydney, or anywhere else in Australia, for that matter? Yeah, we are all getting a bit tired of Airbnb’s massageable “facts”. What does Stayz think about the overseas experience?
“When implemented correctly in other parts of the world, the registration of holiday rentals has proven to be a low-cost and effective way of informing the development of sensible rules for our growing sector,” writes Curry.
Yeah, but … no, but … Airbnb can see the grim hand of corporate pressure.
“Another potential explanation is the government has caved to the aggressive and behind closed doors lobbying of vested interests, international hotel groups who return very little to the local community,” Crowley says in the AccomNews opinion piece.
For those of us who’ve been embarrassed at the way our politicians have caved in to the rampant disruption model of online letting agencies, it’s worth reading the responses to that comment on the AccomNews website. The people who provide more jobs and pay a lot more taxes than foreign internet platforms, for some reason take umbrage at being accused of not contributing to their communities.
“These vested interests treat registration with almost talismanic status and view it is a way to put up a barrier to severely restrict home sharing,” says Crowley, for Airbnb. “If the big international hotel lobby is pushing for something, you can usually guarantee it’s not designed to empower local home sharers.”
Hmmm. Mr Pot, may I introduce Ms Kettle. If another “vested interest” – like a $50 billion megacorporation based in San Francisco – doesn’t like something, you can bet it has less to do with personal freedom and more to do with corporate profits.
Now, we could question the wisdom of attacking the hotel industry in one of its own media outlets but let’s wrap this up so you can get on with making your submission to the government consultation process.
“Onerous registration would make it harder and more expensive for local families to both earn extra income as a host or afford a holiday as a guest,” says Airbnb.
“It creates a significant and unnecessary time and financial barrier to becoming a host. Before being able to earn extra income, a family might have to fork out thousands of dollars and wait weeks or even months.”
Speaking as someone who had to stop a visiting brat from wilfully wrecking a communal flower bed just the other day, I’d say uncontrolled short-term letting is a significant barrier to building communities.
And a final word to Stayz: “As Australia’s original and longest operating holiday rental accommodation website, we have used our experience and knowledge of the sector to develop an evidence-based position on policy and regulatory settings that will support good outcomes for the tourism industry, the community and the short term rental sector.
“Amenity rules, planning codes and minimum standards are almost impossible to enforce without registration. Also, registration will shed light on the true size of our sector and finally provide truthful answers to questions about our sector’s impact on housing accessibility and affordability.”
Actually, the final word is with you. You have until close of play on September 11 to make your views known HERE on the Planning NSW website.