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South Africa, Airbnb discuss regulation of short-term home rentals

South Africa’s Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom met with representatives of global online accommodation booking platform Airbnb to discuss various policy issues, in particular, the regulation of short-term home rentals, the department said on Friday.

The meeting took place in the context of the current call for public comment on the Tourism Amendment Bill, published on April 15, to provide stakeholders an opportunity to make submissions.

The Tourism Amended Draft Bill aims, amongst others, to address the regulatory vacuum on short-term rentals by defining short-term home rentals as “the renting or leasing on a temporary basis, for reward, of a dwelling or a part thereof, to a visitor”.

It also seeks to enable the minister of tourism to determine thresholds regarding short-term home rentals, through a notice in the Government Gazette, according to the department.

“The Amendment Draft Bill in its current form proposes that the minister of tourism be empowered to determine such thresholds. We urge our stakeholders to submit their comments, to enable us to strengthen the Bill in order to serve the interest of inclusive tourism growth in South Africa,” said Victor Tharage, director-general for the department of tourism.

Airbnb shared information on a range of global trends and approaches adopted in various countries, states and cities where they operate. There was also an acknowledgment of the need for a proactive legislative and policy response underscored by sound destination management and interventions aimed at enhancing the visitor experience.

The department said Minister Hanekom has welcomed the spirit of the discussion and cooperation from Airbnb, and further appreciated their commitment to contribute constructively to the legislative review processes, in support of the country’s tourism development growth objectives.

“We welcome Airbnb and other game-changing innovations that are opening up new markets for destinations, offering travelers affordable holidays, and allowing smaller industry players to thrive. Many of these are able to flourish through the ease of use of shared-economy platforms,” said Hanekom.

The Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) has long called on the government to intervene to ensure Airbnb becomes industry-compliant and regulated.

Fedhasa argued that unregistered accommodation establishments marketed via Airbnb should be under the same regulations that are applied to the official tourism sector.

In April the government published the Tourism Amendment Bill for public comment. Should it be signed into law, short-term home rentals will be regulated under the Tourism Act. The minister of tourism could then specify various “thresholds” in terms of Airbnb rentals.

Airbnb country manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Velma Corcoran, said Airbnb was delighted to have had the chance to engage with the tourism department about the proposed amendments to the Tourism Act, and was encouraged to see the recognition of the benefits that hosting brings to local communities and the economy.

“For South Africa to reach its ambitious tourism goals that are key to economic development and job creation for all citizens, it is vital that guests to the country have a wide selection of accommodation and experience options, including home sharing which allows guests to stay in different areas as well as with local hosts who are ambassadors to their country,” said Corcoran.

She said that hosts on Airbnb have already contributed significantly to the South African economy, welcoming people into their homes and creating exciting experiences and tours, showing to visitors the true and varied face of the country.

From June 1, 2017, to May 31, 2018, it has been estimated that host and guest activity on Airbnb generated an estimated R8.7 billion in economic impact in South Africa and this corresponds to a total of over 22,000 jobs supported across the broader South Africa economy.

“To continue this trend and to not disadvantage any citizen of South Africa, Airbnb supports fair and proportional rules that are evidence-based, benefit local people, and distinguish between professional and non-professional activity taking into account local conditions,” Corcoran said.

“Hosts on Airbnb are incredibly proud of the offering that they bring to the tourism sector, and Airbnb wants to continue to support them as they make their voices heard in the ongoing participatory process. Airbnb is committed to facilitating a dialogue between them, the Ministry and relevant authorities as their voices are valuable to the process.”

Source: The exchange

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