Airbnb has hit back at criticism that it is “hijacking” the holiday trade in Cornwall and beyond after saying it had generated £359 million for the region’s economy last year.
The online temporary accommodation brokerage company said the operation complemented the conventional hospitality industry and helped expand and diversify tourism.
The response comes after it was accused by tourism leaders in Devon and Cornwall of creating unfair competition, potentially putting visitors at risk and adding to the pressure on public services.
Earlier this year, Cornwall tourism chief Malcolm Bell accused the company of unfair competition saying the Airbnb phenomenon was killing the holiday accommodation trade in Cornwall.
The Scillonian leaving Penzance for the Isles of Scilly with St Michael’s Mount in the background
The chief executive of Visit Cornwall, the organisation which promotes the county to visitors in the UK and beyond, believed the huge San Francisco-based business did not abide by the same rules as traditional hotels, self-catering accommodation providers and B&Bs.
He believed that while a majority of Airbnb places in Cornwall were fine, a lot of people keen to make some extra cash by renting out rooms to tourists probably did not comply with the same rules and regulations the the rest of the accommodation sector has to abide by.
He said: “We’re happy to work with them so long as Airbnb providers comply with the same rules and regulations other people do. It’s about having a level playing field for Cornwall.”
There are 3,600 Airbnb rooms and properties to rent in Cornwall, comprising about 10,000 beds.
South Fistral beach in Newquay (Image: Greg Martin)
Mr Bell believed a lot of people who rented a bedroom out to strangers may not even know they have to comply with fire safety rules, carbon monoxide and CO2 regulations and hygiene rules if they serve food to their fee-paying guests.
Before the summer tourist season he told Cornwall Live: “Airbnb does not advertise Cornwall. They don’t keep their money in the Duchy but it goes straight out to its headquarters in America. They hijack Cornwall but don’t give anything back. A lot of people wanting to be part of the sharing economy think the same rules and regulations don’t apply to them because they’re not B&B or hotels.
“If you take money from people for staying in your home there are about 140 rules and regulations you have to abide by from fire assessments to health and safety.
Kynance Cove on the Lizard peninsula
“It’s been 10 years since the Penhallow Hotel fire in which three people died. I’m not sure your insurance company or mortgage company will save you if you kill three people and haven’t told them you’re renting your rooms for money. Call me reactionary, but I think it’s a good idea not to kill you guests.”
Most insurance and mortgage premiums increase for people who rent their property out. Liability insurances can also be quite costly. Anyone who makes money from their home on Airbnb will also be liable to pay more taxes to the Government and even business rate.
Now Airbnb has hit back, saying there was a “misunderstanding” that businesses listed on Airbnb did not have to comply with the law and regulations such as health and safety.
In reality, most hosts were families who shared their homes a few days each month. All Airbnb hosts are asked to certify they would check and follow local rules before listing their space.
He said: “Hosts in the South West typically earn £3,400 a year by sharing their space for less than three nights a month.
The Tate St Ives art gallery
“They are typically regular families sharing their space only occasionally, not businesses or professionals. In the UK, over three-quarters of hosts share their primary home. Over the last year, the Airbnb community in the South West generated £359 million in economic activity.
“Airbnb allows local families to share their homes, boost their income and welcome more visitors to Devon and Cornwall.
“Countless experts agree Airbnb is complementary to the existing hospitality industry, helps grow and diversify tourism and helps more people to travel, which is good news for everyone.”
Two countywide tourism bodies and a senior Cornwall councillor have called for regulation of Airbnb.
Visit Cornwall said the company “damaged” the region and did not engage with efforts to raise standards.
But the Airbnb spokesman said: “We’ve met Cornwall Council and Visit Cornwall to highlight all the work we do on safety and regulations, and welcome the opportunity to discuss how we can work together further.”
Source: Cornwall Live