Don’t tax Airbnb yet, says Sealy

The Star (St. Lucia) - - BUSINESS - By Mar­ion Mad­den (Bar­ba­dos To­day)

The Min­istry of Fi­nance is be­ing ad­vised to en­sure there is clar­ity on what com­prises the in­for­mal ac­com­mo­da­tion sec­tor be­fore im­pos­ing taxes on those in­volved in the pro­gramme.

The un­reg­is­tered lodg­ing sec­tor has been gen­er­at­ing an in­creas­ing amount of in­ter­est among the for­mal sec­tor, as a ris­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors choose home­s­tay pro­grammes such as Airbnb over ho­tels.

This has prompted calls for reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion of the short-term ac­com­mo­da­tion providers.

How­ever, Min­is­ter of Tourism Richard Sealy warned at a re­cent news con­fer­ence at the Lloyd Ersk­ine San­di­ford Cen­tre that the au­thor­i­ties must tread care­fully.

“I know the Min­istry of Fi­nance is keen to get tax rev­enue. But again, be­fore you can tax some­thing you have to find out what it is. It is not sim­ply the case of just say­ing, ‘all these peo­ple are us­ing the In­ter­net to pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion and it is hap­pen­ing out­side of the tax net’. Some of these peo­ple are nor­mal ho­tels that are just us­ing it to get busi­ness. So we have to do some anal­y­sis and go from there,” Sealy in­sisted.

Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the Bar­ba­dos Ho­tel and Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion Rudy Grant con­firmed ear­lier this month that new guide­lines were be­ing drafted, to in­clude reg­u­la­tion of the short-term rental pro­grammes.

Yet, Grant told Bar­ba­dos TO­DAY the is­sues went far be­yond Airbnb, and it was crit­i­cal that the en­tire ac­com­mo­da­tion sec­tor be reg­u­lated to en­sure they all meet min­i­mum in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

At the same time, Gen­eral Man­ager of Sugar Bay Bar­ba­dos Beach Re­sort Mor­gan Seale in­sisted home­s­tay pro­grammes must be held to the same stan­dards as the rest of the ac­com­mo­da­tion sec­tor and reg­u­la­tion was the best way to achieve this.

How­ever, Sealy said while he was aware that the Bar­ba­dos Tourism Prod­uct Au­thor­ity, Bar­ba­dos Tourism Mar­ket­ing Inc and the Bar­ba­dos Tourism In­vest­ment Inc were “ex­am­in­ing the ad­vent of Airbnb” with reg­u­la­tion in mind, it was “a lit­tle com­pli­cated” is­sue that re­quired care­ful anal­y­sis be­fore any reme­dies were pre­scribed.

“It is not a sim­ple is­sue. I know some peo­ple have gone pub­lic mak­ing state­ments that I don’t nec­es­sar­ily know I can agree or dis­agree with in the ab­sence of some proper re­search be­ing done on it. It is a re­al­ity in Bar­ba­dos, yes, but it is also some­thing that has in many ways dove­tailed with a huge part of our ac­com­mo­da­tion plant.

“We have al­ways had these guest­houses all over the place that have be­ing do­ing busi­ness for years. Many of them are un­reg­is­tered [and] many of them are at­tached to peo­ple’s homes and so on. I guess we need to do some proper anal­y­sis on the whole thing,” the min­is­ter stressed.

There are some 1,100 Bar­ba­dian home­own­ers who have listed their prop­er­ties on Airbnb’s web­site.

The on­line ac­com­mo­da­tion mar­ket­place is said to have at­tracted about 16,000 vis­i­tors, or just over two per cent of the to­tal 631,520 tourists to the is­land last year.

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