|Hoteliers and Flat-Sharing-Website Owners Disagree on Need for Regulation.|
By Jabeen Bhatti
Sunday, 16th March 2014
Exclusive ITB Feature: Light regulation of flat-sharing websites is giving upstarts an unfair advantage in the hospitality industry, hotel owners said during a session at ITB Berlin.
While executives from European flat-sharing websites said their websites bring untapped business to cities and are not directly competing with hotels, representatives of large European hotels said they disagreed adding that flat-sharing websites should be regulated in the same way as mainline hotels.
Apartment-sharing websites generate over $60 billion a year in revenues globally. But although many cities around the world have cracked down on what had been a previously unregulated field, primarily by levying taxes on the websites, hotel owners say it is not enough when compared with more heavily taxed and regulated traditional hotels.
“Until now, we were ok with the way that vacation homes operated,” Thomas Allemann, a member of the management board of Switzerland’s hotel lobbying group, Hotelleriesuisse. “They paid local and city taxes and were regulated. What we see now is new rooms coming online that aren’t regulated, and that's a problem.”
He said 85% of all hotel stays in Switzerland are in his members' hotels, and are of similar length to apartment-share website rentals. He said the hotels at all price levels had seen their business drop due to apartment-share websites.
In Zurich, 1.2% of all overnight stays in 2013 were booked over Airbnb. Allemann said his group was worried that this figure could double or triple in the coming year.
Ramon Estalella Halffter, of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels, said he was worried that flat-sharing websites were operating, essentially, as travel agencies, but calling themselves “social platforms” in order to reduce their tax and hospitality responsibilities.
“Their rates are lower because they are not always in the hotel business, so they don’t have the expenses of full-time hotels,” Halffter said.
The hoteliers want apartment-sharing websites to levy city and overnight stay taxes on the rooms they sell. Mainline hotel operators collect this tax and pass it on to their guests.
Still, Roman Bach of 9flats.com, a German apartment-share website, disagreed.
"There have been vacation homes for ages,” Bach said. “All we are doing is making the process more efficient.”
Christopher Oster, co-founder of Wimdu, a German home-sharing website, said his customers want to experience new cities that they visit on vacation “like locals do and that sets them apart from hotel guests.”
“Also, most of our guests stay longer than usual hotel guests,” Oster added. “But like hotels, we try to have high quality standards. We send photographers to take pictures of the rooms and we have reviews by our customers.”
Bach cited data from Airbnb, whose representatives declined an invitation to attend the panel, to support his argument that flat-sharing websites like his have actually led to an increase in visits to cities, and enticed visitors who would otherwise not have traveled or booked hotel rooms.
Arnaud Bertrand of HouseTrip, a French flat-share website, seconded this. Sites like his, he said, offer value over competitors, “especially in pricey cities like Paris, where average room rates are about 120 EUR a night.”
All of the panelists cited proprietary data. It is unclear if any of that data – all of which tended to support each side’s respective position – was independently audited.
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Jabeen Bhatti is a reporter and editor in Berlin, Germany. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she has spent most of her career in hard news and currently manages the international journalism organization, Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA). She gets out of Berlin whenever she can, enjoying local nibbles everywhere and finding the perfect hotel room many times over.