Western Cape govt slams bill that could regulate Airbnb

Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Beverley Schäfer is strongly opposed to the regulation of short-term home rental platforms like Airbnb.

Fin24 reported in mid-April that the public can currently comment on the proposed Tourism Amendment Bill.

Blessing Manale, chief director of communications at the Department of Tourism told Fin24 at the time that the government is certainly not trying to "kill" Airbnb-type accommodation. There is, however, no legislation stipulating who is responsible for regulating that industry.

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.

"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.

According to a statement issued on behalf of Schäfer this week, the Western Cape Government will be making submissions "to oppose any regulations which could impact tourism revenue and affect people's private property rights".

"The Western Cape government is driving tourism growth and in order to develop this sector, we need a sufficient mix of hotel, B&B and home rental room nights in order to accommodate a wide variety of tourists and budgets," commented Schäfer.

"We need to stimulate innovation and use disruptors in order to put tourism on steroids in this province."

In her view, any regulations that infringe on people's property rights, or impact a host's ability to earn a living must be rejected outright.

"Over 2 million people have made use of Airbnb alone in this country, and if regulations make it more difficult for travellers to access this kind of accommodation, they will simply vote with their wallets and go elsewhere. We cannot allow this to happen," said Schäfer.

She has noted that a number of traditional hotels and bed and breakfasts use disruptor sites to market their accommodation and generate business this way. Additionally, Airbnb has started to offer "experiences" which allow local entrepreneurs to offer unique tourism products to travellers and earn an income.

"Regulations could unintentionally impact these businesses and entrepreneurs," cautioned Schäfer.

'Extreme damage'

In her view, the national government has already done "extreme damage" to SA's reputation as a tourist destination as a result of the introduction of "a crippling visa regime".

"We cannot afford another clumsy and short-sighted mistake which could potentially harm this important sector further," said Schäfer.

Airbnb responded to Fin24 earlier to say that it is having "productive discussions" with the SA government.

"Airbnb is growing because it reflects the way people live, work and travel today and, while travel on our platforms accounts for less than 1 in 8 visitors to South Africa, studies show those guests boosted the economy by about R8.7bn and helped create 22 000 jobs last year alone," Airbnb commented.

Hosts retain up to 97% of the price they charge to rent out their accommodation space.

* 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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