Broome accom providers have joined the fight for urgent regulation of short stay holiday lets, claiming established businesses are losing thousands in revenue to the region’s proliferation of Airbnbs.
Accommodation operators from WA’s north have taken their concerns to a Parliamentary Inquiry, which is expected to release final recommendations later this month on how to regulate the state’s short-stay industry.
Ross Forbes-Stephen, who manages a complex of villas near Broome’s iconic Cable Beach, told the ABC his business was losing tens of thousands of dollars a year as the number of properties on booking sites like Airbnb and HomeAway soared.
“I’m representing 13 mum-and-dad-type investors here who are losing probably 10 to 15 percent a year to Airbnb,” he said.
“Not that we have a problem with competition per se, it’s just that it’s not a level playing field.”
Mr Forbes-Stephen said his concern is not residents renting out the odd extra room, but the listing of entire houses and apartments on the platform by hosts not subject to the same rules and restrictions as traditional operators.
According to the WA Australian Hotels Association (AHA), a vociferous lobbyist for short-stay legislation, there were 219 Broome properties listed on Airbnb in July, 70 per cent of them entire homes or apartments.
Some Broome businesses told the ABC they were being asked to “price match” listings, an issue experienced by an increasing number of accommodation businesses as commission-charging online travel agencies vie to display the lowest online prices which guests then expect a venue to match.
The AHA wants a Tasmanian-style system for WA through which hosts of properties deemed not to be their primary place of residence must supply a permit to be listed on short-stay booking platforms.
Airbnb has come under more sustained and aggressive fire in WA than any other Australian state, accom operators in Margaret River also accusing the US-based platform of damaging local businesses as it continues to grow exponentially in tourist areas.
But while accommodation providers in Broome want better regulation for the industry, some tourism operators argue Airbnb is a valuable addition to the landscape and should not be discouraged through complex new operating rules.
Broome tour guide and business owner Chris Maher told the ABC any short-stay regulation should be easy for hosts to adapt to, arguing: “If it was overly onerous, I think that would be quite damaging for Broome.
“If you took the sharing economy away, I think that diminishes Broome.”
Airbnb’s former head of public policy for Australia and New Zealand, Brent Thomas told the Parliamentary Inquiry earlier this year that the bookings platform understands the rules for home sharing in Western Australia are broken and need to be fixed.
While Airbnb is opposed to the introduction of onerous red tape for its community of hosts and has often clashed with the AHA over the association’s approach to short lets in WA, it is also supportive of the Tasmanian regulation system.
“The Airbnb community in Western Australia wants fair and balanced new rules for home sharing. Common sense rules that protect people’s choice to share their home or holiday how they want, while managing issues like neighbourhood amenity and competition,” said Thomas.
Airbnb advocates a “clear and simple state-wide regulatory framework” for WA, with a sliding scale of regulation differentiating between mum-and-dad Airbnb hosts and commercial-style operators, new powers to manage guest behaviour in strata units, and a code of conduct for hosts and guests.