Tourism Committee To Look At Benefits, Regulation Of Vacation Home Rental Sector

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The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) has put together a committee to look into the benefits and possible regulation of the vacation home rental industry in The Bahamas, the association's president, Carlton Russell, revealed to Guardian Business in a recent interview.

Russell suggested that there is an obligation to level the playing field in the hospitality industry, as online platforms such as VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), Airbnb and Flipkey, allow property owners to use their properties as private short-term accommodations.

“The emergence of this sector, driven largely by advancements in technology, which have helped fuel the vacation home rental market, affects the global industry, and The Bahamas is not alone in its efforts to respond to this growing trend," said Russell.

"The global tourism market is expanding its demands on vacation experiences, and so we must adapt and move to stay ahead of the curve."

Russell said the BHTA's committee also comprises stakeholders from the Ministry of Tourism's Hotel Licensing Department, local promotion boards and Caribbean-based partners such as the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, in a public-private partnership think tank. He added that the group's purpose is to identify the impact of the vacation home rental segment of the market on the country's tourism model, and to find a way to regularize the sector to ensure "tax benefits are able to be realized appropriately".

"The government of The Bahamas, and countries throughout the Caribbean recognize the importance of bringing this sector into the fold as it pertains to business licenses, health and safety regulations and other operational practices. Given the immediate, instant effect of social media on global public opinion, jurisdictions like The Bahamas must move swiftly to protect the reputation of their respective destinations," Russell said.

"Regulating and ensuring standards in this sector is a crucial component of any policy decisions addressing the vacation home rental market.

"In addition, the matter of taxation is of paramount importance, as this sector offers governments new revenue opportunities. Furthermore, an appropriate tax structure would level the playing field across the board for the hospitality industry, the lack of which could propagate an unfair advantage over traditional tourism businesses that are subject to applicable taxes and fees.

Hotel owners on the Family Islands and New Providence, which are subject to a strict tax structure, have complained that these private vacation rentals have begun to eat into their business.

Russell said he sees the rapidly emerging sector not as something to be feared, but a golden ticket to expand the country's hospitality offerings.

"Overall, the BHTA looks at the sector as a challenge that we need to turn into an opportunity through collaborative efforts and forging alliances with leaders in the consumer platform market such VRBO, Airbnb, Flipkey and Uber to enhance the guest offerings and experiences," he said.

The Nassau Guardian
January 30, 2017