The Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA) has called on government to intervene to ensure online hospitality platform Airbnb becomes industry complaint and regulated to safeguard the tourism sector.
Speaking at the Indaba Ministerial Session at the Tourism Indaba in Durban last week, FEDHASA’s Chief Executive Officer, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa expressed his concern at the hospitality service’s “non-compliance” and called on the Department of Tourism and key industry role players to get involved. Tshivhengwa stressed the importance and need for all accommodation providers to abide by the same set of rules and regulations at all times.
“The hospitality industry as a whole has an obligation to adhere to these various guidelines, they have been created for a reason and it’s vital that they are upheld,” Tshivhengwa said.
Airbnb is an online booking platform that enables homeowners to rent space in their homes to guests for short-term stays. The concept has grown in popularity as travellers seek cost-effective alternatives to hotels.
“We are not concerned about competition if we are all playing in equal field. What concerns us are new industry players that are listed on Airbnb that doesn’t follow any regulation, some are not even registered as businesses,” he said.
According to Tshivhengwa, Airbnb would be a ‘valid segment’ of the country’s tourism industry, provided the hospitality platform abided by a strict set of industry rules and regulations.
One of the issues that demonstrates the hospitality platform’s non-compliance, said Tshivhengwa, is its failure to verify compliance with the South African Liquor Act, leaving it open for an informal renter to supply a complementary bottle of wine, which slight as it may seem, can unfairly tip the scales in Airbnb’s favour.
“This is just one example of a myriad of ways that the formal sector can be disadvantaged by those operating outside of the regulation.”
“There are rules of engagement and Airbnb needs to adhere to these rules. There can’t be a different set of rules to benefit only them. I know many will say it’s different, it’s a sharing economy and not part of the industry, well if you provide a short term accommodation for gain, it’s not sharing” he said.
Tshivhengwa explained that in the tourism industry, sharing usually happens when people are visiting friends or relatives (VFR), a visitor doesn’t have to pay to stay at friend or relative’s house, that’s sharing, he said.
To address the matter, Tshivhengwa recommended that FEDHASA, along with key industry role players and the Department of Tourism partner during the upcoming Shared Economy Conference to discuss the best way forward to ensure the hospitality platform becomes compliant.
“We need to escalate this matter, we need to have the necessary discussions with stakeholders. It’s at a point where it’s now serious and we need to address it as a matter of urgency,” he said.