Airbnb SA calls for short-term online rental register

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 14 Jun 2021

Airbnb SA is urging South African policy-makers to set out their support for nationwide regulation of short-term rentals, noting that progressive rules will help rebuild a sustainable future for tourism in a post-pandemic SA.

The hospitality booking site’s regional lead for Middle East and Africa, Velma Corcoran, is calling for a short-term rental registration system in SA,and a clear, legal and industry-wide definition of short-term rentals, as part of the home-sharing firm’s five-point proposal to revive tourism in the wake of the pandemic.

The online national registration system, she notes, would provide government with valuable data to enforce proportionate regulation, offering transparency to communities, and empowering local tourism entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

Airbnb says it has signed more than 1 000 regulatory and tax agreements globally, many of which are built around a simple registration system, as an effective way to regulate short-term rentals. It is pushing for similar rules in SA, to create a healthy environment for entrepreneurs in the local tourism industry.

Similar calls have been made for the regulation of digital economy firms, like e-hailing and food delivery services, in SA.

“We need to drive a genuinely inclusive tourism recovery by breaking down the barriers to becoming a tourism entrepreneur,” notes Corcoran.

“We know from the hundreds of agreements Airbnb has signed with authorities around the world and the wide-ranging system of rules that have been introduced, that good rules not only benefit hosts who list their properties on Airbnb, but also their communities. That’s why we have always led calls for fair rules, and today, are setting out our support for the introduction of a nationwide registration system that will enable entrepreneurship and support a diverse tourism economy.”

Velma Corcoran, regional lead for Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.
Velma Corcoran, regional lead for Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.

In many cities across the globe, short-term rental hosts are required to register, get a permit, or obtain a licence before they list their property or accept guests.

In other cities, certain types of short-term bookings are prohibited altogether. Local governments vary in how they enforce these laws, with some instituting penalties which include fines or other enforcement.

In 2019, the South African government published the Tourism Amendment Bill,which aims to provide for the determination of thresholds and the national regulation of short-term home rentals and home-sharing apps such as Airbnb.

The Bill also aims to provide for the regulation of safety in relation to the regulation and the improvement of the tourist guiding experience, among other objectives.

The Department of Tourism invited submissions for public comments on the draft, which received backlash from opponents who argued that the thinking behind the Bill is misguided. They say it will allow the minister of tourism to specify a limit on the number of nights a guest can stay in an Airbnb host’s home, or even how much income they can earn, resulting in a negative impact on job opportunities created by the home-sharing platform.

In November 2019, the City of Cape Town approved amendments to its municipal planning bylaw, which allows for short-term home-letting of up to 30 days. The bylaw makes it easier for homeowners to rent out their properties on home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb.

The Tourism Amendment Bill is still with the Department of Tourism for review.

Transparent digital entrepreneurship

Airbnb says it has made a significant contribution to SA’s economy by generating billions of rands since 2016.

According to Corcoran, Airbnb SA’s proposed five-point plan includes:

  • Breaking down barriers to becoming a tourism entrepreneur.
  • Growing tourism outside of traditional hotspots.
  • National regulation, with clear and sensible rules that encourage and enable entrepreneurship.
  • Working in partnership with government.
  • Prioritising safe travel.

A clear, legal and industry-wide definition of short-term rentals, which legitimises hosting and removes unnecessary red tape, would encourage and enable entrepreneurship from everyday South Africans, notes Corcoran.

She is of the view that a smart online national registration system would enable Airbnb hosts and other hospitality entrepreneurs to share their registration number online for full transparency to all stakeholders.

“The national online registration system would give government data to enforce smart regulation, offer transparency to communities, while empowering tourism entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

“Tourism recovery needs to be underpinned by a smarter approach to regulation – taking this opportunity to bring in clear and sensible rules that enable entrepreneurship and support a diverse tourism economy,” explains Corcoran.

Airbnb says it is working alongside the South African Revenue Service and has built a ‘responsible hosting’ page and dedicated tax guide for its hosts in partnership with local firm, Tax Tim.