Malaysiakini Letter

Airbnb - authorities should take a firm stand

YS Chan  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTERS | Last Thursday, Airbnb had a meeting with the Malaysia Budget Hotel Association and declared it was willing to collect tourism tax (TTx).

TTx is collected from all foreigners paying for their stay at hotels at RM10 per room per night since last September and low-priced hotel operators had strongly opposed the “in-your-face” tax which had deterred budget tourists from staying longer or opt for private accommodation.

The voluntary gesture by Airbnb may be an attempt to legitimise their unlicensed business and sadly, the authorities have been dragging their feet in making a firm ruling on the matter.

Earlier on Aug 4, the founder of an online platform for accommodation spoke at a dialogue session titled “Generating a Five-Figure Income via Homestays” at Sungai Petani.

He advised aspiring homestay and guesthouse operators to ensure suitability of location as renters could comprise 40 percent tourists, 20 percent business travellers and 10 percent parents visiting children studying in nearby institutions.

He gave valuable pointers for those who wish to become successful homestay entrepreneurs. However, the word “homestay” is rather confusing for those who know a house is not a home.

Homestays started with travellers staying in homes of a local family but today it is freely used to include those staying in private accommodation which are virtually unlicensed hotels.

Now, owners or tenants should be allowed to rent out rooms freely in houses or apartments they are staying to defray rental or maintenance costs.

People who work or study in the vicinity rent these rooms on a monthly basis whereas short-term visitors are paying guests staying with the owner or tenant with or without other family members.

However, those who rent out entire houses or apartments to short-term guests are actually operating an unlicensed business. It would also be unethical when the safety and security of the building or neighbourhood could be compromised.

In worst case scenarios, entrepreneurs lease from owners many apartments and operate them as homestays or guesthouses with scant regard for permanent residents living there. Such a concept should not be promoted unless one couldn’t care less for others.

Housing developers could switch to building more one-room studio apartments with cheaper private residence utility rates, as commercial charges apply to service apartments or small office home office.

Buyers of such studio apartments are least likely to object if many of the units are used for so-called homestays or guesthouses.

In towns and villages, some house owners placed “Homestay” signs by the roadside to catch the attention of passing motorists. But they are not part of the Malaysian Homestay Programme (MHP) under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac).

The MHP involves a cluster of 10 or more houses in one or more villages and gives tourists the opportunity to stay with a chosen family, interact and experience the daily life of their homestay family and learn the culture and lifestyle of the rural community in Malaysia.

The MHP is well regulated by Motac. Similarly, private accommodation used for short-term stays should be regulated by the local authorities.

Operators would have to pay licence fees, taxes and commercial rates for utilities after complying with safety requirements. But they must first get the consent of their neighbours.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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