SANDRINGHAM, N.L. – Bed and breakfast owner Wayne Hallett says the increase in unlicensed accommodations is a growing threat to both the safety and integrity of the tourism industry.
Hallett has run the Prince of Whales Inn in Sandringham for the past six years. He is also chair of the Road to the Beaches Tourism Association.
With the success of the online platform Airbnb, the use of unlicensed accommodations has proliferated in recent years. Hallett says this has many licensed cabin, bed and breakfast and inn owners in the Eastport Peninsula and across the province worried.
“We’ve been dealing with unlicensed accommodations for a long time, but it was never considered a high priority until the past couple years. Airbnb has provided such a high platform — where the accommodations can advertise and do so successfully,” said Hallett. “Now I’ve had a call from a gentleman this week and he thinks he’s going to go to out of business due to the high number of unlicensed accommodations opening around him.”
At the most recent meeting with members of the Road to the Beaches Tourism Association, Hallett says the concerns around unlicensed accommodations dominated the conversation.
Due to the regulations, permits, taxes and insurance needed to establish a licensed bed and breakfast, Hallett would prefer that all accommodations be licensed to ensure a level playing field.
“The licensing of restaurants takes in everybody from someone operating a chip van on the side of the road to the highest priced restaurants in the province,” he said. “But our regulations are not broad enough to do that.”
More importantly, Hallett says a required license would ensure accountability and safety to all potential visitors of the province. Currently, Airbnb does not require its users to be licensed in order to advertise on the platform.
Hallett has heard horror stories in his area, one particularly of an unlicensed accommodator that offered a room with plywood over their windows, and the lodger did not get their money back when they decided not to stay.
As well, Hallett says recently he has been asked by visitors to his business if they have to pay taxes when they pay for their room in cash. Hallett suspects he would have only been asked that if such a policy had been in place elsewhere, likely at an unlicensed accommodation.
“As a destination that’s growing in importance, we need to be able to guarantee to people that come here that they will experience what they expect,” said Hallett. “If, God forbid, a [unlicensed] place was to burn to the ground with loss of life, and that place had no insurance, it would undo all the good reputation we’ve built over time.
“I think it’s too big of a risk and an unnecessary one.”
Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister Christopher Mitchelmore was not available for an interview by publication time but provided an email response.
Mitchelmore wrote he has been raising awareness of the requirement to become licensed and has also written to Airbnb regarding the legislation for licensed accommodations and taxation in the province.
The Tourist Establishments Act, amended in 1993, is currently under review by the department, and Mitchelmore says they are actively studying the successes and shortfalls that have been implemented in other jurisdictions.
“It is evident that travellers’ desire for non-traditional accommodation has changed and collaboratively the industry needs to adapt to it,” the minister said. “The main policy goal is to ensure fairness in the industry.”
Hallett agrees the current act is not responsive to the industry today and needs to be updated.
Hallett has invited Airbnb operators in the Eastport Peninsula area to become involved with the local tourism association, but as of yet the invitation has not proved successful.
Ultimately, he hopes that a consultation between the department and both licensed and unlicensed accommodators can go ahead in the near future.
“I would love to sit down with the minister,” said Hallett. “Let us have our say and the Airbnb operators have theirs.”