B.C. hotel industry’s biggest beef is short-term rental operations

Part 3 of the BCBusiness Tourism Status Report looks at accommodation

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Home-based tourist quarters compete with hotels but aren’t held to the same standards

Part 3 of the BCBusiness Tourism Status Report looks at accommodation

Travellers love short-term lodging like Airbnb—the U.S.-based company has more than 18,000 hosts in B.C. alone. 

Members of the hotel industry? Not so much. Ingrid Jarrett, GM and VP business development of the Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos, explains why. What started as true home sharing where the owner is present during the guest’s stay has expanded into using Airbnb and similar services to become commercial operators, she says. “Effectively, [short-term rental hosts] are repurposing residential homes for commercial use and are running underground hotels.” 

Jarrett points out that not only do Watermark and other hotels pay commercial and income tax, commercial insurance, PST and MRDT (municipal and regional district tax, which raises revenue for local tourism marketing and programs), their owners and managers also help develop and promote local tourism experiences. She herself has a long involvement with numerous industry organizations, including as a current member of Destination BC’s tourism marketing committee, past president of the British Columbia Hotel Association and former chair of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association. Jarrett also promotes the region’s culinary and agricultural tourism and is vice-chair of Slow Food in Canada.

“You’re advocating and working with municipalities, and you’re raising the profile of tourism so that people understand what it contributes to the community, whether it’s high-school or part-time jobs, or full-time, year-round great professional jobs,” she observes. “Those businesses don’t do any of that because it’s all under the table.”

Jarrett emphasizes that everyone offering tourist accommodation should be subject to the same rules and responsibilities. These include taxation, health and safety standards, business licences, insurance and accessibility. “Not only will this achieve fairness and a level playing field,” she notes, “it will ensure that travellers are kept safe and communities are preserved.”

Besides failing to contribute to communities, short-term rentals remove affordable housing for local workers. “Accommodation was short five years ago, and now it’s critically short—there just isn’t any,” Jarrett exclaims. “So we rent houses and apartments for an eight-month period, and then we use that for staff accommodation.” Longer term, she’s looking into building staff housing through a joint venture with the Osoyoos Indian Band.

Governments are starting to take action. Municipalities such as Nelson, Richmond, Tofino, Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler now have business licensing requirements for tourist accommodation operators, and as of February, Airbnb is collecting provincial and municipal taxes from its B.C. hosts. The provincial government, which estimates that Airbnb will remit some $16 million through the PST and an additional $5 million through the MRDT, plans to look at similar arrangements with other short-term lodging websites.