‘Astroturf’ submissions flood holiday letting inquiry

Apologies first up to everyone who is sick of reading about short-term holiday letting  in this website.  If it’s any consolation, we’re sick of writing about it.

However, the online holiday letting industry is ramping up its campaign to prevent the vast majority of owners in apartment blocks from being able to control short-term letting in their buildings.

As part of that, sadly, some of my more gullible colleagues in the press have been trotting out the persistent online holiday industry fiction that they are all about people renting a room in someone’s home, when in fact most of their money is made from renting whole homes – and in Sydney and Melbourne, that mostly means  apartments.

And so we recently saw yet another puff piece, written by a journalist flown to San Francisco at Airbnb’s expense, that told us how wonderful Airbnb is going to make our lives by giving us more choices of places to stay.

Needless to say, there was no mention of the 6,000 homes – the equivalent of 60 large apartment blocks –  taken out of the rental market (Sydney University’s estimation) by online holiday letting.

No mention of the tourist-only ghettoes growing in cities like Barcelona and New York, where locals are being driven out of traditional rental areas because lanlords can make more money from holiday lets.  Ironically, the piece was illustrated by a picture of a flat in Melbourne – meaning the writer had to go all the way to San Francisco just to basically regurgitate a Press release and use a local picture.

This is the power of a multi-billion dollar global corporation and, make no mistake,  they have your apartment block firmly in their sights.

Thanks to a sharp-eyed Flatchatter (because nobody else told us) we have learned that public submissions on the proposed short-term holiday legislation are on display online (RIGHT HERE) and one thing is very clear from them: the online holiday letting industry is a well-organised machine that won’t give up on its quest to get free rein in apartment blocks without a hell of a fight.

They have persuaded thousands of their ‘hosts’ and ‘guests’ to send out carbon copies of their objections to restrictions on holiday lets.

This is what experts in political campaigns call “astroturfing” – creating a fake grassroots campaign by having thousands of people send out the same message that they don’t even have to read, let alone write.

Page after page in literally thousands of submissions have been sent to the government, with exactly the same wording, making exactly the same points, with only the occasional personal line here or there to make it more ‘real’. But most don’t even bother with that.

It’s an impressive illustration of the pester power of a global business that, again with the help of gullible so-called journalists, has already publicly threatened our MPs that they could suffer an electoral backlash if they dare to vote to restrict their business model.

It’s not quite up there with Russian interference in the American Presidential election, but it is a clear attempt to affect the democratic process by fair means or foul.

However, they may have over-reached. It could stimulate a massive backlash among MPs some of whom who are beginning to wonder if they have been played for mugs.

We all know that there’s a huge difference between what the short-term letting industry say they want – people being able to let rooms in their homes to visitors – and what they also really, really want; investors being able to let their entire apartments and houses to holidaymakers.

What this astroturf campaign isn’t is an illustration of any heartfelt desire of the majority of apartment owners – especially resident-owners – and long-term tenants to have their homes turned into holiday hotels.

You’d like to think our MPs would be too clever to fall for this particular form of PR fakery. Let’s hope so.

It’s hugely ironic that, overnight, a business based in San Francisco, USA, may be able to redraw our planning and zoning laws, evolved over decades, in a way that ordinary Australians would never be able to do.

We can only hope that our government in NSW hasn’t been drinking the same Kool-Aid that has clearly boggled the minds of its counterpart in Victoria.

By the way, City of Sydney has changed its tune … slightly but significantly … when it comes to short-term letting in unit blocks. As the council that has more apartments under its care than any in Australia, so it should have.

“The City’s research and consultation with strata communities has found that issues relating to amenity impacts, compensation for damage to common areas, recovery of insurance and other costs need to be managed,’ says its submission. ‘The City also recommends that strata communities have the choice to restrict short-term letting in their homes where there is strong support.’

In other words, if 75 per cent of owners want a by-law restricting holiday lets, they should be allowed to have one. Result! We can only hope our politicians are listening to GENUINE local voices and not the organised fakery of self-interested holiday letting hosts.

 

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