Airbnb is bad for Devon and needs to be regulated, industry says

Figures in the tourism industry have called for regulation of Airbnb due to the “damaging” effect on the southwest of the online accommodation giant.

The travel agency distorts the housing market, putting visitors at risk and threatening to damage the image of an industry of vital importance to the region, said Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall.

He fears the operator – which has 3,600 hosts in Cornwall alone – could overload tourist hotspots in the southwest such as Torbay and Newquay, causing problems that have sparked protests against the industry in parts of Europe. He called for government intervention to regulate the entire tourist accommodation industry, including operators such as Airbnb and other short-stay sites.

Cornwall Council member Andrew Mitchell said he was concerned about pressure on services such as garbage collection and by landlords effectively using their properties as businesses but not paying commercial rates.

Mr. Bell sad: “Airbnb is doing some damage. Increasing accommodation is good when offering a spare bedroom, as Airbnb began. But a lot of people do this as a business. We see thousands of two and three bedroom properties.

“Some only offer a few weeks in summer. But we don’t want additional bodies in August. We want the same number but spending more, and spread over the year.

“Thousands of additional people during peak periods put pressure on services like water and roads. I am concerned about the impact in places like Torquay, Newquay, Falmouth and St Ives. “

Of particular concern was that many homeowners could list unsafe homes that did not meet fire and other safety standards, putting visitors at risk, Mr. Bell said.

Responsible owners providing accommodation in a conventional manner in registered hotels, guesthouses and independent properties faced regulations and inspections ranging from health and safety to food preparation and service standards. . Plus, they couldn’t avoid paying taxes, as Airbnb operators could.

“It’s like it’s a football match but you allow certain players on the pitch who don’t have to play by the same rules: it’s not a fault if they kick kick to someone and they can’t be taken offside, ”he said. noted.

Mr Bell was speaking as new figures showed the number of people staying in accommodation listed on the UK house-sharing site had increased by more than 80% since the summer of last year. Airbnb, launched in 2008, is now a global company valued at over £ 25 billion.

Mr. Bell’s comments were supported by Simon Fishwick of Visit Devon. “I would echo Malcolm’s concerns,” said Mr. Fishwick, the organization’s general secretary.

“It’s madness that we have a system developed over many years to ensure that B&B, self-catering accommodation is regulated for hazards such as fire. Airbnb falls completely outside of that.

“It brought a lot more companies to the market. It’s a new industry. It goes up and up and up in Devon. It affects a lot of [conventional] small guest houses and hotels and lodge providers. Airbnb is a problem in Torbay.

“Bigger hotels have the marketing budgets to compete with Airbnb, but small businesses don’t. “

Mr Fishwick said on the bright side, Airbnb has added to what is now a very wide range of accommodation and brought more people to the South West, boosting restaurants and tourist attractions.

“There has to be a link between Airbnb and the regulators, to ensure that basic safety requirements are present,” he said. “The potential dangers are horrendous. “

Airbnb says hosting on its site generates around £ 3.46 billion for the UK. Local hosts keep 97% of the accommodation fees paid by guests, and about half of visitor spending is made in the communities where they stay, boosting local businesses, according to the company.

In a report released earlier this month, Airbnb said a typical UK host earns around £ 3,000 a year by hosting an average of 36 nights. Customers spend an average of £ 147 per day, much of it within the local community. The online operator has been blamed for contributing to tourist congestion in places such as Barcelona – which has seen protests targeting tourists – and Amsterdam, where huge growth in the number of vacation rental homes is believed to swell the market. immovable.

Some destinations have become tourist ghettos, stripping places of character and driving out expensive places.

Dutch bank ING said in a report released earlier this year that Airbnb is pushing up house prices because people will pay more for an apartment if they know they can make extra money by renting out. the apartment.

Mr Bell said he was concerned the Airbnb effect would start to affect the residential rental sector.

“People are complaining about the effect of secondary ownership, but if we start to see rental properties affected, because landlords feel that they can make money more easily by renting a few weeks a year to tourists in the region. held all year round at locals, so this is really serious, ”he said.

There were also tax and legal considerations that could cause problems for landlords who rented their properties and tenants who sublet.

“Mortgage companies could steer people toward more expensive rental mortgages if they realize that a property is being rented out regularly,” Bell said.

‘If you are in rented accommodation and rent this out for £ 600 per week while in a mobile home on the way – and I’ve heard of this – you might have issues with your landlord. They might move you.

“Anyone who rents regularly can end up with a tax problem. The £ 7,000 a year room rental allowance was aimed at helping people with a job find accommodation and pay off their mortgages. It was not designed to help people rent out their property.

Andrew Mitchell, a member of the Cornwall Housing Council Cabinet, said he was shocked to learn that 3,600 properties were listed on Airbnb.

“Is it that much?” ” he said. “One could fear that this will affect the housing market. If the rumor circulates it is easier to find money to rent for a few weeks on Airbnb, that could become a problem. I haven’t heard of this yet, but we’re only in the early days. Mr. Mitchell, who represents a constituency in St Ives, said he was aware of the operator’s popularity in the city.

“Our concerns are that these ad hoc premises put visitors at risk because they do not have safety certificates such as fires like those found in guest houses and usual accommodation,” he said. he declares.

“There is the cost of services, such as garbage collection. They should pay business rates if they are not residential.

“We want to make sure that there is a positive effect from these leased properties. We want owners to know their responsibilities.

“During the 1970s and 1980s every street in Newquay had a B and B sign in the summer, but that did the vacation industry a disservice. The quality has improved. We don’t want visitors to go downstairs and have a bad experience and say to people when they get home, ‘I wouldn’t go to St Ives or anywhere else’. It could hurt the industry.

Mr Bell said Visit Cornwall and the board have approached Airbnb to encourage good practices from people renting through the site.

“We tried to engage with them so that we could organize half-day basic training sessions for the owners.

“They didn’t want to engage with us. They didn’t want to give us names and addresses. They are quite cavalier.

“They say if a homeowner or visitor has a problem, ‘our insurance will cover it,’ but then it’s too late.

“It requires government intervention. But they tell us, “This is the new economy. It’s a changed world ”.

“But human traits, human behavior have not changed. The risks to visitors – and even to owners – have not changed.

“I would like everyone offering vacation accommodation to have a license.

“There would be no restrictions on the market, but then we could run awareness courses and have regulations to protect people.

“I am concerned about possible damage to the reputation of the industry. We have seen what is happening in places like Barcelona.

“Using Airbnb is supposed to stay with the locals, well, if you really want to stay with the locals, stay on a farm where the people have lived for four generations.”

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