Online site’s surge a concern
The rise of room-sharing website Airbnb in Australia has been swift.
Airbnb sees people with spare rooms or available houses rent them out as short-term accommodation – mostly to holiday-makers or travelling professionals.
But as Airbnb has grown in Australia since arriving in 2013, motel owners are concerned that the new part of the accommodation industry isn’t regulated.
Airbnb hosts do not have to comply with the strict health and safety, sanitation and operation standards that motels, bed and breakfast properties and guesthouses do.
Bendigo Motel Association president and City Centre Motel owner Simon Wurf said it is too easy to set up an Airbnb.
“You can just ... set up and away you go, there’s no checking up on it,” he said.
“The regulations that we have to follow have loopholes that let Airbnb slip through.
“It’s a bit of a bugbear but it's more (frustrating) that we're not on a level playing field.
“We have a bottom line to work to and they don’t.”
Welcome Stranger Motel owner Charlie Loftus said legislation and government policy can’t keep up with the evolution of the internet.
“Ten years ago there were only two online booking agencies,” he said.
“We probably got 10 per cent of our bookings through those sites. Now we have 95 per cent come through our computer.
“Competition is good for any industry but we just want level playing field. If it’s regulated and (through governments) meets standards then there’s nothing to worry about.
“It makes everyone lift their game or keep to a good level.”
Airbnb's Australian general manager Sam McDonagh said concerns over rules and regulations were common.
“One of the things we consistently hear from councils is that the rules are often hard to interpret and outdated,” he said.
“In fact, in many cases they were written long before the internet even existed. That's why we're working with governments right across Australia for clear and fair home sharing rules.”
Mr McDonagh said Australians are some of the most prolific users of Airbnb with more than 60,000 listings across the country.
“It’s a number that we are seeing grow year-on-year,” he said.
“In Victoria we currently have more than 10,000 Airbnb properties listed.
“Airbnb lets you live like a local in a city you’ve never been to before.
“With our vibrant and welcoming host community, guests can learn about a culture or hear insider tips on how to best explore a neighbourhood.”
Airbnb experience leads to new venture
Chris Corr has been on both sides of the Airbnb bed.
He owns and operates Stay Social, a guesthouse in Bendigo that opened six months ago.
The house can sleep 15 and has seven private bedrooms but users are expected to share the self-contained communal areas.
The idea for Stay Social came from using Airbnb.
“Airbnb as platform early on was fantastic. I’ve been a guest with Airbnb a number of times outside Victoria,” he said.
“There have been bed and breakfasts for years but there has been massive rise from a dozen (Bendigo Airbnb) properties to hundreds.
“I think it is wonderful because it is providing a lot more accommodation options and users get that local experience.”
While Mr Corr said there needs to be a level and regulated playing field, he said many accommodation owners could learn from the Uber debate.
“What we’re seeing in the Uber debate is that the taxi industry, hopefully, is seeing they need to learn from what they haven't been doing,” he said.
“Uber has become so popular (because) it has a high level of service and a unique experience.”
Stay Social falls in the grey area between being an Airbnb and a motel.
“We're in between a room and a motel. Personal stories and experiences make a hotel. We have got the comfy beds but it’s really the experience we want,” he said.
“We are creating a space for people have those experiences.”
Queries over tourism deal
The City of Greater Bendigo is concerned an arrangement between Tourism Victoria and Airbnb may have a negative effect on their efforts to develop “brand Bendigo”.
Tourism Victoria is working with Airbnb to promote and encourage tourism to non-traditional areas.
Airbnb Australian general manager Sam McDonagh said the partnership with Tourism Victoria is really exciting for the Bendigo area.
“Make no mistake - we're keen to showcase some of the lesser travelled to spots in the state and spread the benefits of the tourism dollar,” he said.
“The first stage of the partnership has been received well and we are already seeing more guests experiencing regional towns and areas they might otherwise miss when travelling.”
Tourism manager Kathryn Mackenzie said council is aware of the rise of the share accommodation model.
“There is a concern that unregulated accommodation providers, such as Airbnb, may negatively impact on efforts by the city and others to develop ‘brand Bendigo’,” she said.
“The city and local businesses have worked very hard to attract people to the region. Significant advertising dollars are spent across the state, nationally and, sometimes, internationally.”
Ms Mackenzie said tourism operators contribute to the advertising spend through a membership with Bendigo Tourism.
“(They) reap the financial rewards when visitors do come to our region and spend their money here,” she said.
“There is a concern that Airbnb are benefitting positively from the work of others without making any contribution of their own.”
Mr McDonagh said the people benefitting positively from the growth of Airbnb were everyday people.
“(It’s) mums and dads and folks who make a modest but important extra income by being great local hosts in our community,” he said.
“They tell us the money they earn through hosting guests helps pay down the mortgage, the rates and utilities bill, or afford to go travelling themselves.
“It's also great news for local businesses. Travellers live like a local and spend money in cafes, shops and restaurants they wouldn't have otherwise known about.”
A spokesperson for Tourism Victoria said it is working with Airbnb to explore opportunities to promote regional Victoria through promotional activity and online content.
“Through this, we are developing online content that benefits both the visitor and the destination,” they said.
“Platforms such as Stayz, Expedia and Airbnb all play an important role in offering a diverse range of accommodation options to consumers.”