JHTA responds to Jamaica Observer Editorial entitled “Gov't must not fall into JHTA trap on short-term rentals"

JHTA responds to Jamaica Observer Editorial entitled “Gov't must not fall into JHTA trap on short-term rentals

KINGSTON, JAMAICA, July 4, 2019 – The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) notes with concern the recent discussions on Social Media as well as in the print and broadcast media surrounding our position on the regulation of Airbnb and other types of accommodation-sharing platforms that operate here in Jamaica.

Of particular note is the Editorial published in the Daily Observer of July, 4, 2019 which incorrectly asserted that the JHTA is attempting to “hijack the Government to straightjacket our competition”. Nothing could be further from the truth and is in fact an offensive overreach by such a respected newspaper. Competition is and should always be the name of the game in the tourism industry. Our members, small, medium and large, all compete everyday locally, regionally and internationally for their share of business.

Interestingly this debate on Airbnb and the like is nothing new and is not limited to Jamaica, but in fact is raging all across the world due to the pros and cons of these platforms to the formal accommodation sector, and the major impact they are having on the availability of affordable housing for the local population. Avoiding having a sensible debate about it is nothing more than sticking our heads in the sand, which will do nothing more than ignore the facts that are all around us. For our part, the JHTA fully recognizes the changes in the accommodation landscape both locally and internationally. These „new? platforms provide consumers with boundless choice and therefore competition is quite correctly on the side of the consumer. We are also very aware that these platforms, in one way or another are here to stay. With that said then, let us all be practical about everyone?s responsibility to sustainably manage our country?s accommodation sector going forward.

Let us be clear, the membership of the JHTA is not just made up of large hotels, but also includes small villas, guest houses and apartments, which in many cases are of the size of many of the Airbnb type properties. To provide additional context, there are 117 JHTA Accommodation Members (of which 42 are small and mainly non all-inclusive). The biggest difference between us, is that our members have invested the time and effort to have their business registered with the Jamaica Tourist Board and comply with all the safety regulations and tax laws applicable in Jamaica. Given the fact that our members are required by law to comply with the operating guidelines related to fire, health and security protocols, we feel strongly that anyone else who represent themselves as being legitimate operators in the accommodation space, should also have to abide by even a minimum set of rules that will provide their guests and the country with assurances of their safety and security capabilities.

In all of our discussions surrounding the Airbnb type subsector, we have consistently said that the government must NOT seek to over regulate them, as we understand how hard it is for businesses (particularly the small ones) to operate in an atmosphere of government overreach. It must be made clear that there are several hundred Airbnb listings for Jamaica which range from a low of US$10 per night all the way up to US$4140 per night and include properties that are very small and modest and up to very large and luxurious facilities. Let us therefore dispel this view that Airbnb type businesses are just a small man?s hustle! Some very significant businesses and individuals are invested in Airbnb type ventures. The difference is that our members are playing by the rules and more and more hundreds of others are not. In fact by not applying the rule of law across the board, the government finds itself complicit due to its inaction.

The JHTA's recommendations thus far has been quite moderated, wherein we suggest that at a minimum, all Airbnb type business should be made to pay the minimum “Guest Accommodation Room Tax” (GART) of US1 per night when their places are occupied. Conversely our members not only have to pay the GART between rates of $1 to $4 per paid room night, but are also required by law to pay all other taxes (Income, Payroll, Licensing Fees etc.) as a part of our daily operation. Fairness and the rule of law is not just for some but for all!