Only handful of J'cans benefiting from Airbnb, says Canadian urban planner

Only handful of J'cans benefiting from Airbnb, says Canadian urban planner

BY HORACE HINES
Observer staff reporter
hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, December 06, 2019

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — A Canadian urban planner and university lecturer yesterday countered a claim by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett that many ordinary Jamaicans are cashing in on the Airbnb market.

According to David Wachsmuth, professor of urban planning at Canada's prestigious McGill University, studies have revealed that contrary to popular belief, only a handful of Jamaicans are benefiting from the online marketplace for arranging or offering lodging, primarily home stays.

“If you look at Jamaica it has got about 10,000 short-term rentals listings operating every day now, and they are operated by 4,000 different hosts. But just a handful of those hosts 30 or 40 of them make a majority of all the money from short-term rental platforms,” Wachsmuth said at the International Realtors Conference and Expo 2019 being hosted by the Realtors Association of Jamaica at Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in this city.

“We have an impression of this being a kind of spread-out activity where everybody can open up a new bedroom for rent... and maybe everybody is doing it, but everybody is not making a lot of money,” Wachsmuth said.

When pressed for a strategy to assist more people to benefit from short-term rentals, Wachsmuth said it is for the Government to devise policies to ensure that small operators do not get swallowed up by their larger competitors.

“The question for the Ministry of Tourism, for the Government, to ask is what are they trying to accomplish. So one possibility is what you are trying to accomplish is increase the number of visitors to Jamaica. If that is the goal, then you want to do everything you can to get the most successful operators to do more they are the big ones. But if the goal is to balance that with the life for local residents, if the goal is to also spread some of the benefits of the short-term rental sector to more people, maybe what you want to be thinking about is the question of having slightly tighter regulations on the big commercial operators and be a little more permissive for the home-sharers. Or do you want to promote home-sharing, or you want to just get visitors, regardless if it's home-sharing or not?” Wachsmuth argued.

Bartlett, whose address was read by Tourism Product Development Company Executive Director Dr Andrew Spencer, argued that ordinary Jamaicans are now enjoying the benefits of Airbnb.

“Hotel rooms are not our only source of accommodation. We still have villas and apartments doing well and you would have heard of a disruptive force in travel and hospitality called Airbnb. They have become major players in the non-traditional tourism market and now ordinary Jamaicans are cashing in by opening their homes to accommodate a growing wave of visitors who prefer the unique experience of vacationing with families,” Bartlett stated.

But the McGill University professor said that research on the growing success of the short-term rental sector and the effects it has on communities showed that it is accompanied by conflicts triggered by its social impact.

He explained that in residential neighbourhoods, or gated communities with, say, 30 units, but 15 of those units are for tourists, the people who have bought the other 15 units may be expecting to have a quiet quality life. However, the fact that they have neighbours who are visitors can result in conflict.

In addition, he said the cost of housing for local residents is going up because people are in competition with tourists for the same homes.

“And so, those are problems that can be solved at the policy level,” the Canadian said.

He, however, disclosed that the research has shown that the short-term rental platform is growing in the region.

“What we found is, first of all, they are having a major impact. There has been some gigantic growth doubling, tripling the number of short-term rental rooms over the last seven years all across the Caribbean, including Jamaica,” Wachsmuth said.

The conference, which is scheduled to end today, is being held under the theme: 'Thinking Globally, Investing Locally'. Its objective is to showcase opportunities in Jamaican, Caribbean and Latin American real estate markets, with a focus on investment, education and training while providing a platform for networking.


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