BHA: online rentals must meet high standard

  • Stephen Todd, CEO of the Bermuda Hotel Association

The Bermuda Hotel Association is taking a pragmatic approach to the news that the Bermuda Tourism Authority has signed an agreement with Airbnb.

Stephen Todd, president of the BHA, said the organisation had long recognised the presence of small-scale vacation rentals available on the island.

And while it is an advantage for the island to have available a full spectrum of vacation accommodation options, he said it was equally important to ensure that standards are maintained to preserve and enhance Bermuda’s reputation as a desirable holiday destination.

Last week, the BTA and Airbnb announced they had signed an agreement to promote the island and create a framework for dialogue between the Bermuda Government and the company to discuss industry matters, including marketing and regulation.

US-based Airbnb lists more than three million vacation rental lodgings worldwide through its website. There are about 270 listed in Bermuda, amounting to about 440 bedrooms, with the highest concentration to be found in the western and eastern ends of the island.

Mr Todd said the BHA had been aware of the presence of Airbnb and similar small scale rentals.

“It’s something that has always been there, from when moms and pops offered a room to visitors,” he said.

“We recognise that it is a facility that visitors are looking for — an alternative.

“It is good from the standpoint of offering different options for visitors. But it is important to have a regulatory structure around it, so that we don’t let the team down.

“We are going to be judged by the best and worst that guests experience.”

Mr Todd said setting standards for what a guest can expect is good.

The need for quality control standards was highlighted in a 2015 report by the BTA on the vacation rental property market.

The authority concluded the report by recommending that vacation rental properties be recognised through legislation, that they collect and remit a 2.5 per cent visitor guest fee to the BTA, and they comply with safety standards.

In January, Michael Fahy, the tourism minister, noted that vacation rentals are at present not defined under Bermuda law. He said the lack of standards and direct marketing posed “both a barrier and an opportunity”.

Kevin Dallas, chief executive officer of the BTA, announcing the agreement last week, said it was about “levelling the playing field” and promoting the island as a destination.

He said the link-up also “gives us Airbnb as an adviser to the government as it works through regulations” in that sector of the tourism marketplace.

The Airbnb service is particularly popular with younger, experienced and adventure travellers, which the BTA is keen to attract.

Mr Dallas wants to encourage more Bermuda residents to consider listing a short-terms or vacation rental.

Airbnb is to send organisers to the island to run workshops.

Mr Dallas does not believe small vacation rental properties will have a substantial impact on hotels and guesthouses.

However, Mr Todd struck a cautionary note. He said: “We recognise that vacation rentals will have an impact on the smaller guest properties. We want them to continue to be viable.”

Smaller guest properties are regulated under the Hotel Act, but not vacation rental properties with sleeping accommodation for less than six people.

Mr Todd said: “It is important to have a level playing field.”

He added that the BHA has been discussing the increasing popularity of small rental vacation properties not only at a local level, but with counterparts in overseas jurisdictions.

“It is something that we have to recognise and compete with,” he said.