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The rise in private short-term accommodation options across Victorian towns and cities are being snapped up by tourists and property owners alike, but it is not all good news for the tourism industry.
Some hoteliers and bed and breakfast operators are claiming they are facing unfair competition against online accommodation booking sites, such as Airbnb, and are calling for tougher regulations.
Most traditional accommodation operators in Victoria pay thousands of extra dollars in levies, rates, and licences each year.
They say they many online accommodation providers avoid having to pay the same fees and scrutiny.
“They (the costs) do put pressure on us because we have to have higher prices to cover all the basic fees,” Beechworth-based Bed and Breakfast operator, Sheila Rademan, said.
“We don’t mind them being there, but it’s got to be a level playing field.
“We have to pay a lot of money for licences, registration fees, and all the things that council put on us, but the Airbnbs open and pay nothing.”
Accommodation operators tell of the ‘Airbnb effect’
Traditional accommodation operators in the small north east Victorian town of Beechworth say they are one of many tourist towns across Australia to feel the sting of online accommodation competition.
The town, which has around 3,000 residents, relies heavily on tourists as one of its major economic drivers, and now property owners are wanting to cash in.
Over 40 local residences are currently listed on short term accommodation sites such as Airbnb, while some properties have been snapped by up investors as far away as Italy.
Traditional accommodation providers say as a result, long-term rentals are drying up and property prices are artificially inflating, all while they compete against what they’ve labelled as unfair competition.
“What we’re up against in Beechworth is people buying homes in Beechworth and immediately putting them up as short-term accommodation,” Best Western Beechworth Hotel operator Robert Branson said.
There are also worries that many who stay at cheaper accommodation prefer to self-cater, rather than spend money in the town.
A handful of Beechworth’s Bed and Breakfasts in heritage buildings have now gone on the market, with some operators saying the businesses are no longer as viable as they used to be.
Beechworth’s Freeman on Ford Bed and Breakfast operator, Heidi Ford, has lived in the town for years, and said she now fears for its future.
“I think Beechworth’s losing itself basically,” she said.
“Once you start taking out the heritage of Beechworth, you’ve got a lost town.”
Political promises to step in on short-term rentals
Traditional accommodation operators are now calling on local and State government to more heavily regulate their online competition, with the Victorian Opposition already making it part of their election campaign.
The Shadow minister for Tourism and Major Events, Heidi Victoria, joined concerned Beechworth accommodation operators at Finches Bed and Breakfast, which is also on the market partly due to the pressure of the competition.
“There does need to be a range of (accommodation) options, but what it does need to be is a level playing field for those who are doing the right thing, and those who are incurring the costs of providing a registered business,” Ms Victoria said.
“It’s not about more regulation, it’s about more even regulation.”
“You’ve got the others who are moving into the neighbourhood who are changing the nature of what’s going on here, and unless they’re playing on a level playing field, then it’s very hard for businesses like this to survive.”
Some accommodation providers using online platforms say they shouldn’t have to face the same red tape and fees as the traditional providers.
Sharon Jarrott had been successfully renting out yurts (circular cabin) on her Myrrhee farm for several years using Airbnb.
She said after battling drought conditions, failed grape harvests, and now wild dogs, the accommodation was a successful venture that allowed them to make some pocket money on the side.
“We get to meet people, I have a reason to get up in the morning, it gives you a purpose and it makes good money for us so we can survive better,” she said.
“If you’ve only got a small house out the back that you’re not using any more, why shouldn’t you be able to rent it our and make a bit of grocery money.”
Airbnb says room for everyone
Airbnb has hit back at claims that their business is damaging traditional tourism, and said there was room in the market for everyone
“Tourism is not a zero-sum game,” Airbnb’s Head of Public Policy Brent Thomas said.
“For the Airbnb community to grow, no providers have to shrink.
“Airbnb is growing the tourism pie by making travel more accessible and affordable for more people.
“In stark contrast to trickle-down tourism where only the big end of town benefits, Airbnb spreads the benefits of tourism to the people and places that traditionally missed out.”
Figures provided by Airbnb showed a typical Airbnb host in Victoria earns $63,000 a year in income, and the business injects more than $413 million a year into the state’s economy.
It also supports more than 4000 local jobs, including more than 600 jobs in regional Victoria.