Picture: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON
Picture: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON

The government must regulate travel rental site Airbnb in SA as it is threatening the viability of conventional lodging providers such as hotels and could lead to job losses, the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA) said.

Within 10 years, Airbnb — a privately held company established in San Francisco in the US — has rapidly expanded globally, posing a threat to conventional lodging providers.

It can be accessed through either its websites or mobile applications. Airbnb, which gives travellers affordable accommodation options, has come under scrutiny in other parts of the world, with several countries introducing stricter regulations for the company.

Japan introduced private lodging regulations in June that affected Airbnb. Major cities such as Chicago, New York in the US, and Barcelona in Spain, have also introduced regulations that tighten the leash on Airbnb.

TBCSA’s recently elected chair, Blacky Komani, said on Friday the local industry is not opposed to Airbnb, but seeks the regulation of the short-term letting company. "All we want is that Airbnb must operate within a regulatory framework."

Komani, who took over as TBCSA chair early in August, said that the industry’s request for closer regulation of Airbnb is reasonable.

Compliance

"There must be some regulation. We are not saying there should be no disruption but there must also be compliance."

TBCSA’s members include prominent companies such as City Lodge, Bidvest Car Rental, Thebe Tourism Group and Tsogo Sun. The entry of Airbnb into the SA market comes as the local tourism and hospitality sector is struggling to recover from the effects of the stringent visa regulations of 2014.

Komani, who is also CEO of tourism company Tourvest, said the local tourism industry, which contributes about R412bn or 8.9% to the GDP, has not yet fully recovered from the effects of the controversial regulations.

"We are still feeling the impact of that. But we are grateful that the new administration is addressing the matter," he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday announced that the government would ease visa regulations to stimulate tourism.

"Within the next few months, amendments will be made to regulations on the travel of minors, the list of countries requiring visas to enter SA will be reviewed, an e-visas pilot will be implemented, and the visa requirements for highly skilled foreigners will be revised," Ramaphosa said.

Komani said TBCSA has prioritised cementing ties with the government and other key stakeholders. "We will be reactive by responding to legislation. But we will also be proactive to ensure that future legislation reflected trends in the industry. It is key for us to work with the government. We will be looking for that collaboration," he said.

TBCSA has prioritised the recognition of tourism as a sector that contributed to economic growth and job creation, Komani said. "We are not distant cousins to the other sectors of the economy," he said.

Commenting on the state of the tourism industry, he said the domestic market had predictably come under strain from the factors affecting consumers such as the VAT and fuel price increases.

"That is why TBCSA and SA Tourism are running a campaign to encourage South Africans to travel this month," he said.

September is "tourism month" in SA. The country, however, remains an attractive destination in international markets because of the rand’s weakness against major currencies. "We still offer value for money," Komani said.

njobenis@businesslive.co.za

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