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Bermuda embraces home-sharing tourism

The Bermuda Government is contemplating “a ground-breaking proposal for partnership” with the online home-sharing vacation network Airbnb, according to tourism minister Senator Michael Fahy.

The news was welcomed by the Progressive Labour Party, which had scheduled a town hall meeting on the subject for 7.30pm today at the Prospect Primary School auditorium.

Mr Fahy said that Bermuda Tourism Authority statistics from September 2016 showed 485 homeowners active in guest rentals, with 821 bedrooms on offer.

Calling it a “grey area” in terms of regulation, the minister stressed that the Government did not wish to impose excessive red tape that would “put people off from engaging in this industry”, which he said was “very much self-regulated”.

A fee paid to the BTA would “level the playing field” with the charge paid by hotels, and would be incorporated into the overall fee paid by the guest.

The home-sharing industry has been gaining ground in recent years, helped by technology and popular with younger travellers.

“We can’t ignore it,” Mr Fahy said, noting that St George’s had “almost become a hub for it” — and that the Government’s intention was to “get in on this before the America’s Cup”.

While he acknowledged that the developing market would pose “some form of competition” for hotels, the minister said home rentals would cater to “a different type of visitor”.

He added: “We don’t see the growth in vacation rentals as a threat to Bermuda’s traditional hotels, but rather as a complement to an industry that has served us well over many years.”

Mr Fahy also said he did not expect the growing industry to have an impact on the availability of homes to rent to locals, calling it “a different business model”.

He cited a study commissioned last year by Airbnb that found “no significant impact on the housing market”, but provided residents with an alternative income.

Noting that vacation rental was at present not defined under Bermuda law, Mr Fahy said the lack of standards and direct marketing posed “both a barrier and an opportunity”.

“We are in discussions with home-sharing companies to understand how they have partnered with other jurisdictions to ensure these properties are regulated — including what minimum requirements, if any, there should be and to provide other resources for interested Bermudians. If adopted, these changes would begin to level the playing field for vacation properties and home sharing relative to Bermuda’s regular hotel properties.”

He said the BTA had consulted on the matter with the Bermuda Hotel Association, as well as realtors, the vacation property rental sector and the public, via forums and surveys.

“We believe this level of tourism development will also be a substantial part of refocusing Bermudians on the large variety of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities that can be realised through a highly-successful visitor-based sector.”

Last night’s statement from Jamahl Simmons, the Shadow Minister of Tourism, supported “a proper regulatory and fair approach towards this new product offering” but cautioned against excessive regulation and taxation.

“In an environment in which it is already costly to do business, and where the cost of accommodations is perceived as a disincentive among a significant portion of our target market, we must be mindful that we do not strangle this opportunity in the cradle,” Mr Simmons said. “Hotels currently receive many concessions, while vacation rentals do not.

“Thus any new regulations or new taxes on this industry in its infancy cannot be considered as truly levelling the playing field without greater thought and examination on the best path forward.”

He said the Opposition looked forward to hearing more from the Government.

Tonight’s PLP meeting will include representatives from the BTA, as well as locals taking part in home sharing.

Meanwhile the BTA’s report, including an executive summary on vacation rentals, has been posted online at http://www.gotobermuda.com/bta/industry-reports