Next to airlines and restaurants, one of the businesses hit hardest by Covid-19 restrictions has been Airbnb and its imitators.
The online holiday letting agency has apparently suffered an 85 percent downturn in global business, knocking an estimate $30 billion off its value as it heads for a long-delayed float on the stock market.
The reasons for the slump are obvious and simple – when people can’t travel, they don’t need places to stay.
For those who bought or sub-let multiple properties to run them as businesses – as many as 60 handled by one host, according to a recent report – the end of tourism as we know it has been devastating.
Meanwhile, apartment residents who have battled for years to keep holiday rentals out of their homes have welcomed the bursting of the tourism bubble as a silver lining to the coronavirus cloud.
But there is a growing sense that when Airbnb comes back, it will do so with a vengeance. Already, according to an article in Forbes magazine, forward bookings are up in countries much harder hit by Covid-19 than Australia has been.
Airbnb is finding other ways to infiltrate public perception as the nice guys who just want to help everyone, rather than the “parasites and predators” described by former Melbourne radio host Jon Faine.
This past week they’ve been giving out picturesque Airbnb branded backdrops for your Zoom meetings. And they’re talking up “experiences” in the places you visit — presumably less horrific than the one endured by the teenage tourist who was repeatedly raped by a Melbourne “superhost”.
To be fair, that horrific incident is by far the darkest side of this sub-culture, but turning homes into hotel rooms has, from day one, carried more than a whiff of entitlement, opportunism and disdain for the law.
And there’s no doubt that Airbnb will make a comeback here. They did, after all, once boast that Australia was their “most penetrated” market. So where are we at, as a nation, with holiday lets?
NSW has the most restrictive regulations, with limits of 180 nights a year for greater Sydney and potentially even less for certain holiday hot spots, plus the ability for strata schemes to pass by-laws banning short-term lets completely.
However, the highly anticipated code of conduct and “industry-led” registry have acquired their own “too hard” basket in the Better Regulation ministry, at least while we navigate the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.
And local authorities within greater Sydney can decidedto have the 180-night ceiling removed. No problem there – it’s not like Sydney councils have a reputation for being anything other than reasonable, fair and scrupulously honest.
Victoria has no limits on holiday lets and a largely toothless code of conduct which allows guests to disrupt lives and destroy common property three times before action can be taken against their hosts.
Queensland – where apartment development was originally predicated on the idea of holiday lets – is a mess, as in so many other aspects of strata living.
Even apartment blocks that were built on the proviso that they would be strictly residential-only have been infected with short-term lets because local councils choose not to enforce their own planning regulations.
Other states and territories have their own issues to varying degrees.
What worries many apartment residents, despite the current hiatus, is that politicians simply love Airbnb and its ilk. Why? Probably because they help to bring tourists into our cities and have created their own service industry of cleaners, key-holders and linen-changers.
Furthermore, the majority of voters (who have expressed an opinion) like using short-term lets when they travel … or at least like the idea that they might. And many out-of-town MPs let their city bolt-holes when their parliaments are in recess.
The only people who don’t like them are some permanent residents of apartment blocks, hotel operators and the sleepless neighbours of beachside weekenders.
With all that in mind, the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) will be holding an online webinar on Wednesday May 20, at 1pm, where chair Jane Hearn will explain how NSW apartment owners can use new laws to prepare for the Airbnb rebound.
You’ll find webinar registration details HERE and at ocn.org.au.
If you haven’t used Zoom before, don’t worry – it does all the work and you don’t even need to download any software.
And you can find out more about the Owners Corporation Network HERE.
But that’s for NSW. As for Queensland and Victoria, you might ponder why it is that two Labor-controlled states have by far the most liberal, anti-resident laws when it comes to holiday lets in apartment blocks.
A version of this column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review