Why our decades-old industry is worried about blunt new Airbnb rules

The self-catering sector plays an integral role in Irish tourism.

By Dorren Quinn Irish Self-Catering Federation

BACK IN THE 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, even into the ’80s, a fortnight’s holiday at home in Ireland was the fashionable thing to do.

You headed off with everything but the kitchen sink to a caravan, holiday home or chalet by the sea, which was let out during the summer by the owner. You rented through an ad in the paper or word of mouth or through what was then called Bord Fáilte.

Tax incentives were introduced to encourage the building of holiday homes, management agencies evolved, and overseas tour operators marketed Ireland worldwide.

Business was brisk and holiday homes catered for tourists who wanted an economic alternative to hotels or an independent base for their holiday.

Decades later, enter Airbnb, which was originally sparked by the concept of renting an airbed in a living room to overnight independent travellers who couldn’t find a hotel or a room for a short stay.

Deviating from this original idea, Airbnb started shining the global spotlight on cottage rental, tree houses, pods and yurts – anything quirky we were told would sell like hot cakes.

Airbnb has quickly become the generic name for the short-term letting sector. It has become a verb; people are ‘Airbnb-ing’.

And rather than fighting it, members of the Irish Self-Catering Federation are happy to embrace Airbnb and are using the platform to increase bookings normally achieved through traditional methods – but they’re not willing to do so at the risk of being shut down by blunt new legislative rules.

Difference

It doesn’t really matter what we call it, all these types of holiday properties have one thing in common – they are all self-catering accommodation available for short stays.

What makes us different is, we are actively involved in tourism, part of the tourism accommodation sector, health and safety compliant, and affiliated with national agencies like Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland – yet this simple fact is being ignored.

The role played by the self-catering sector in this context is to provide choice to tourists, opportunities to small- and medium-sized enterprises, job creation and commercial opportunity to otherwise deprived rural and coastal communities.

The claim that the short-term rental model is the cause of the housing crisis in Ireland is, at best, ill-informed. There is no evidence to suggest that our sector causes homelessness and to apply an overly-restrictive set of rules to an already regulated sector will simply harm our tourism offering in Ireland. 

The problem for those of us in the tourism business for decades, complying with regulations already in place, is that we are being included in the mix of individual Airbnb hosts who have got involved in virtual tourism letting.

Blanket rule

It is now deemed necessary to bring in a blanket rule because tourism accommodation is deemed to be ‘short-term letting’ – in fact the words ‘tourism’ and ‘tourist’ seem to have been utterly lost in translation.

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Self-catering tourism rental accommodation plays an integral role in Ireland’s tourism and hospitality sector, which has an inclusive worth of €4.9 billion annually in exports, attracted 8.9 million international visitors in 2017.

It also employs an estimated 230,000 nationally – one in 10 jobs nationally are in the tourism and hospitality sector – and every euro spent by tourists generates 23c in tax receipts.

The Irish Self-Catering Federation – representing 3,500 self-catering holiday homes and employing thousands of people throughout the country – will work with all stakeholders to achieve a stable and supportive regulatory environment to ensure providers of holiday homes, cottages and short-term rental accommodation nationwide can continue to contribute to the tourism sector.

But we ask legislators to keenly review any proposed legislation before bringing in any new blanket rules. They should resist using a sledgehammer to crack this nut.

Dorren Quinn is CEO of the Irish Self-Catering Federation.

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