Picture: FLICKR
Picture: FLICKR

The government is taking the first steps towards regulating online hospitality service Airbnb. 

The cabinet has agreed to the publication of the draft Tourism Amendment Bill for public comment, one of the provisions of which will deal with short term home rentals.

According to an Airbnb report released at 2018's Airbnb Africa Travel Summit — based on an independent analysis by local consultancy Genesis Analytics — Airbnb hosts in SA have earned $260m since the founding of the accommodation platform in 2008. The report said that between June 2017 and May 2018, “host and guest activity … generated an estimated R8.7bn in economic impact” in SA.

Not much information about the contents of the bill as it relates to Airbnb is available at this stage except a sentence in a cabinet statement released on Thursday. It states that the amendment, among other things, "empowers the minister of tourism to determine the thresholds regarding short term home rental".

Tourism minister Derek Hanekom confirmed in an interview that this concerned Airbnb.

He noted that the thresholds would be determined by regulation and would not be set down in the bill. He said that business establishments such as B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels had complained about the fact that they had to be registered and licensed whereas Airbnb establishments were free of these requirements. They said this represented unfair competition.

“There should be certain regulations governing it,” the minister said, adding that this was necessary for consumer protection.

Department of tourism chief director of communications Blessing Manale said the thresholds mentioned in the bill could deal with the maximum annual income allowable before an Airbnb establishment had to convert into a business, its quality, whether it was compulsory to be in the house during rentals and minimum security features, among others.

Another issue that would have to be thrashed out with local government was how to differentiate between residential municipal property rates and business rates.

“There are a number of thresholds and variables that we will throw in,” Manale said. He noted that this was the first time that Airbnb was being regulated in SA.

This was prompted by the need for the department to ensure quality and requests for guidance on how to deal with Airbnb. For example, Airbnb was not included in the grading of tourist accommodation.

“We want to have national norms and standards,” Manale said.

He said the department would be seeking comment from industry, local government and individuals on the bill.

The SA Revenue Service would also have to comment on the tax implications of the bill with regard to additional private income earned from Airbnb activities.

Tourism Business Council of SA chair Blacky Komani has called for the regulation of Airbnb saying it was threatening the viability of conventional lodging providers such as hotels and could lead to job losses.

“All we want is that Airbnb must operate within a regulatory framework,” he said.

Japan introduced private lodging regulations in June 2018 that affected Airbnb. Major cities such as Chicago, New York in the US and Barcelona in Spain, have also introduced regulations that tighten the hold over Airbnb.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za