Airbnb still a ‘small player’ in Abbotsford tourism industry

But city staff caution only a matter of time before challenges are realized

Airbnb still a 'small player' in Abbotsford tourism industry

It’s only a “matter of time” until Airbnb rentals start to have a major effect on the local tourism economy, staff told a city committee last week.

Airbnb, a company that allows people to list rooms and homes available for short-term rent, has grown dramatically in recent years and been accused by some as tying up condo units in Vancouver’s crowded housing market.

In Abbotsford, though, the company is still just a small player in the local tourism industry. Staff estimated there are between 35 and 40 active listings for rent in the city, although the number changes frequently as listings come and go.

Still, staff cautioned that “given what is going on in major cities throughout North America and in resort communities in B.C., it is likely only a matter of time before real challenges for hotel operators and for local citizens here in Abbotsford are realized.”

Cities are confronting two main issues surrounding Airbnb rentals: the use of housing stock for short-term accommodation, and the payment of hotel taxes that go to tourism marketing.

Resort communities have found rooms that used to be available for rent by seasonal workers are being listed on Airbnb for short-term accommodation. That has created challenges for tourism operators requiring large numbers of temporary employees to staff their operations, which are often the reason for visits by the same people staying in Airbnb units.

Cities are also looking at ways to ensure companies that rent multiple units through the site are paying local hotel taxes. Currently, hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts that rent four or more rooms must collect a two per cent hotel tax to be used for local tourism marketing purposes.

It’s not known how much revenue is currently being lost, but the BC Chamber of Commerce is urging the provincial government to ensure that the correct taxes are being collected by Airbnb operators.

Craig Nichols, executive director of Tourism Abbotsford, said the issue is one of fairness.

“If more consumers are choosing to stay in Airbnb accommodations, that’s fine, but Airbnb providers should be collecting the same two per cent hotel tax that as hotels do.”

A recent presentation suggested monitoring is vital to ensure operators subject to taxes and permits rules actually comply.