Should the likes of Airbnb be regulated in SA? A new bill says yes

The public has 60 days from Monday April 15 to submit comments on the Tourism Amendment Bill, which will regulate short-term accommodation in the so-called shared economy, Blessing Manale, chief director of communications at the Department of Tourism, told Fin24 on Monday.

Airbnb is an example of such a business model.

"We are not trying to 'kill' Airbnb-type accommodation, but there is currently no legislation stipulating who is responsible for regulating that industry," he said.

The bill was published in the Government Gazette on Friday April 12 and re-published on Monday April 15, due to a printing glitch. The bill will enable the minister of tourism to determine certain so-called "thresholds" for short-term home rentals.

According to Manale, these could include a limit on the number of nights guests could stay at an establishment. It could perhaps even limit the number of guests due to potentially larger water consumption in an area. Thresholds could also look at pricing, zoning, how much an establishment can earn and maybe even regulating matters like security.

"It is ultimately to ensure we bring all the various types of short-term accommodation into one pot. We want to make sure that whatever shared economy business model comes here, we are ready for it," said Manale.

The Department of Tourism plans to discuss with provincial and local governments on issues like oversight on zoning and whether Airbnbs-type establishments should only be allowed to operate in certain areas.

"We are proposing to first empower the minister of tourism and then he can decide what should be the biggest priorities, for instance for thresholds," said Manale.

He emphasised that it is not about whether operations like Airbnb and should exist or not.

"They are, however, mostly self-regulating. We now just want to hear both sides - from those having such accommodation establishments and those who feel it is hampering the more 'formal' tourism industry," he said.

"The bill is now under public consultation. We just want to gather input from the industry, local government and even tax experts on how to deal with income, for instance, that might be falling through the cracks."

The department is in the process of holding seminars and workshops to inform people about the bill and its proposed changes for the shared-economy.

"There is still a long way to go," said Manale.

"From government's side, we realise that it will be useless to make regulations if we cannot 'police' it," he said.

"Those running the likes of Airbnbs need not worry that government wants to 'kill' the shared economy in the tourism industry. It is a business model that works. The intention of the bill is rather to create the best outcome for the local tourism industry."

* More information on how to submit comments on the bill can be obtained from Mmaditonki Setwaba on msetwaba@tourism.gov.za or 012 444 6312.

** The bill can be accessed here.

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