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LETTER: Airbnbs are here — municipalities, industry need to learn best how to live with them

Airbnb.
Airbnb. - JOHN MACDOUGALL

First let me say that I have operated a registered B&B for 17 years now and last spring, after talking to other B&B operators, listed my rooms with Airbnb.

As a registered B&B I had to undergo inspections, had to pay my Canada Select levy, had to have special insurance and pay a business tax.

Even though I am listed with Airbnb I still pay all those fees and have that insurance.

The B&B I talked to had listed with Airbnb last year, and because of a snafu had been dropped from the provincial guide this year. Yet she has had a great season with a full house aided by her additional listing with Booking.com. In the past being dropped from the provincial guide meant a huge loss of business. That this is no longer the case.

Why do we need to go through the arbitrary procedures of listing with the province when there is a highly efficient alternative that not only makes it quick and easy to book a room, but has a number of reviews that tell you not only what the room looked like, but what the hosts were like and how they were treated? 

Canada Select, by contrast, charges hundreds of dollars for a cursory inspection of the B&B that does nothing to reflect the kind of service guests will receive.

It is time regular accommodations realize that the accommodations industry has changed and they will either have to change with it or go out of business.

This spring we listed with Airbnb after a drop in our business in 2018. 

This summer we have recovered most of that drop in business, and are slated to have as good a year as we have ever had. A large part of that is due to the bookings we got through our Airbnb listings. Next year we plan to add Booking.com to increase our business.

So why Airbnb rather than a regular listing?  For one thing some towns make it punishingly expensive to open a B&B. They sometimes double the mill rate and that can lead to thousands of dollars in additional taxes. The town I am referring to now has 27 Airbnbs listed on the internet but no registered B&Bs. Other towns charge a small business tax of several hundred dollars and they have listed B&Bs.

Airbnb has revolutionized the travel business. In the past year we stayed at two Airbnbs, one in the Philippines and another in St. John’s. Both were significantly below the rate we would have paid for a hotel room, and both offered more amenities. In St. John’s we stayed at a basement apartment with two bedrooms for $64 a night. A local hotel would have been much more expensive. And even if we had paid the tourism levy it would still have been a bargain.

And while the lower rates are an attraction, the ability to go online and find a room while on the road is a great convenience. We have guests going to Gros Morne who have a very difficult time finding a B&B room by calling around. But when they go on Airbnb they see exactly what is available. That is one of the great values of online booking be it with Airbnb or Booking.com.

It is time regular accommodations realize that the accommodations industry has changed and they will either have to change with it or go out of business.

And it is time for municipalities to levy appropriate municipal taxes if that want the Airbnbs to pay their share.

Peter Fenwick, Inn at the Cape owner and operator,
Cape St. George


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