Op­er­a­tors scope out stays

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Front Page - War­ren Hately

A group of tourism op­er­a­tors have run their own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged un­ap­proved Airbnb op­er­a­tors fol­low­ing frus­tra­tion at a lack of ac­tion from Shire of­fi­cers.

A spokesman for the anony­mous hol­i­day home op­er­a­tors, who are mem­bers of the Mar­garet River-Bus­sel­ton Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion, said mem­bers ran a test in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter they were dis­grun­tled by a re­cent workshop with Shire of Au­gusta-Mar­garet River plan­ners.

The group found eight short­term rentals in Brookfield and Rapids Land­ing in one hour.

Op­er­a­tors said they re­jected any claims it was too hard for Shire of­fi­cers to iden­tify non-com­pli­ant hol­i­day homes based on their on­line pro­files.

“They are iden­ti­fied by their street ad­dress, name on Airbnb and a pho­to­graph,” op­er­a­tors said.

“Their op­er­a­tion as short-term ac­com­mo­da­tion, il­le­gally or in breach of pol­icy re­quire­ments, is proven by their list­ing on Airbnb, which dis­plays avail­abil­ity.

“We ask the Shire to deal with these prop­er­ties and un­der­take an en­force­ment process to iden­tify and close other il­le­gally op­er­at­ing short-stay prop­er­ties.”

An­other tourism op­er­a­tor who asked not to be iden­ti­fied said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed a crack­down was pos­si­ble.

Shire sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor Dale Put­land said of­fi­cers would act on the in­for­ma­tion, but warned about jump­ing to con­clu­sions about ap­provals.

“It is im­por­tant to note that iden­ti­fy­ing the lo­ca­tion of a house that is ad­ver­tised on Airbnb does not con­sti­tute ‘catch­ing out’ un­ap­proved op­er­a­tors,” he said.

“The Shire takes a me­thod­i­cal ap­proach to en­sure that suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence is avail­able to con­firm an of­fence has been com­mit­ted, and that this ev­i­dence will sup­port a con­vic­tion in a court of law prior to tak­ing com­pli­ance ac­tion.”

Shire pres­i­dent Pam Town­shend said coun­cil­lors were await­ing fur­ther brief­ings on Airbnb af­ter dis­cus­sions ear­lier this year about pos­si­ble for­ma­tion of a con­sul­ta­tion group and de­vel­op­ment of an over­ar­ch­ing pol­icy.

“Coun­cil­lors are get­ting quite a few emails from peo­ple ex­press­ing dif­fer­ent opin­ions,” she said.

A fo­rum of pri­vate own­ers rent- ing spare bed­rooms on Airbnb told the Times they were aghast at the ap­par­ent “vig­i­lante ac­tion”.

“We don’t see the need for Shire staff to po­lice Airbnb apart from fol­low­ing up le­git­i­mate neigh­bours’ con­cerns about party-houses,” a spokes­woman said.

Rogue op­er­a­tors were seek­ing an amnesty for small-scale Airbnbs, ar­gu­ing they were part of a di­ver­si­fied econ­omy sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses and part of the “dis­rup­tion” cre­ated in many sec­tors by on­line tech­nol­ogy.

Last month’s Shire workshop was de­signed to dis­cuss re­vi­sions to the re­gion’s short-stay ac­com­mo­da­tion pol­icy, but tourism op­er­a­tors fo­cused al­most ex­clu­sively on rogue Airbnb and Stayz op­er­a­tors.

MRBTA mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Sharna Kear­ney said un­reg­is­tered op­er­a­tors were her as­so­ci­a­tion’s pri­mary con­cern and com­mended Shire com­mit­ments to act on rowdy op­er­a­tors.

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