Airbnb finding converts in Vancouver

 

Tourism officials say the private host-to-visitor service should be accepted and regulated

 
 
 
 
During peak periods in the summer, Vancouver hotels have occupancy rates ‘way into the 90-per-cent range,’ said Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Ty Speer.
 

During peak periods in the summer, Vancouver hotels have occupancy rates ‘way into the 90-per-cent range,’ said Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Ty Speer.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Visitors to Vancouver and city tourism officials are increasingly looking to Airbnb as a viable downtown accommodation option amid high hotel rates, despite bans on the service by strata councils and the City of Vancouver.

Vancouver homeowners can’t rent out their space for less than one month unless they’re licensed as a bed and breakfast or as a hotel operator, according to city bylaws.

The new phenomenon of private host-to-visitor accommodation has other large destination cities around the world cracking down on the service. Many strata councils are also opposed to Airbnb, citing safety and insurance concerns.

Even so, Airbnb seems to work for both visitors to Vancouver and their hosts.

In mid August, Nolan Olson had planned to book a downtown Vancouver hotel room for a weeklong getaway from his logging job on Haida Gwaii.

“Hotels were $400 or more a night,” Olson, 31, told the Sun in an interview. “There were hotel rooms available, but only a few, as it was a last minute. But at $400 a night for week it would have cost me almost $3,000.”

After spending his first night in a hotel in Burnaby, he opted to book an apartment on Vancouver’s Cordova Street through Airbnb for $150 a night.

He said the room was clean, in a convenient location and there were reviews he could read about the space before booking it.

Olson noticed a sign in the building that stated Airbnbs were not permitted there. “We were told to be secretive that we used Airbnb during our stay,” he said. “We were ‘family friends’ house-sitting. But nobody ever asked.”

He said having a fully furnished apartment with an outfitted kitchen made his stay more convenient and enjoyable than if he had stayed at a hotel. He also liked the notion of paying money directly to a person rather than to a big hotel chain.

Since it was founded in 2008, Airbnb’s service has spread to more than 34,000 cities in 190 countries, gobbling up a large share of the global accommodation market that would have gone to hotel operators. Airbnb says more than 40 million guests have booked accommodation through it so far.

Airbnb declined to make anyone available for an interview, but sent a statement via email, saying that more than half of their “hosts” rely on this income to be able to afford their homes, according to their own survey.

“We remind all hosts to check and follow local rules and regulations, but a number of these rules were written before innovations like home sharing and Airbnb existed,” Aaron Zifkin, Airbnb’s country manager for Canada said in the note.

“We are having productive discussions with policy-makers in Vancouver about home sharing and Airbnb, and look forward to working with everyone on clear, modern rules for local residents who share their homes,” he said.

Delta Vancouver Suites general manager and Hotel Association of Vancouver chair Peter Catarino said the association has hired a Royal Roads University master’s student to study the impact Airbnb is having on the Vancouver marketplace.

“We will be receiving the results of the study mid-October, which will give us a better overall understanding,” he said, noting that 2015 has been a very good year for Vancouver hotels.

“We realize Airbnb is not going away, but would like to see the playing field more level from a bylaw and taxation standpoint,” Catarino said.

According to Tourism Vancouver’s 2014 numbers, there are 72 hotel/motel properties in downtown Vancouver, with 12,560 rooms.

While anecdotes like Olson’s about high room prices in the summer and on weekends are common, Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Ty Speer says there are enough hotel rooms in downtown Vancouver.

“We do have sufficient supply,” he said. “We have had some really, really peak periods through the summer where we’ve had occupancy rates way into the 90-per-cent [range], as you would expect, and in most economic circumstances when you’ve got extraordinary demand and ostensibly a fixed supply, that’s going to influence price.”

He said the occupancy rate downtown throughout the year averages around 75 per cent.

Speer noted that new hotel projects underway at Trump Tower and adjacent to BC Place would add about 600 rooms to downtown.

As for Airbnb, Speer called it a service that is here to stay, and not one that tourism officials consider a problem.

“It’s not a fad,” Speer said. “I understand from Airbnb that Vancouver is a top-10 market for them around the world. So there is clearly a desire for hosts to be part of Airbnb and there’s clearly a desire for consumers to use their services.”

Tourism Vancouver has met with representatives from Airbnb.

“We have a number of good discussions to understand how they work … within a market,” Speer said. “I would consider them to be a business that does provide a good service. Obviously consumer demand proves that. They are the largest accommodation provider in the world by an enormous factor. I don’t have any particular concerns.”

Speer said Tourism Vancouver is also encouraging local government to consider a levy of some kind on Airbnb service.

“At the right time, Airbnb will become regulated,” he said. “We believe they should be regulated, as does Airbnb, and when that happens … we would expect that they would participate in making contributions to fund the better exploitation of tourism in Vancouver.”

evan@evanduggan.com

Twitter.com/EvanBDuggan

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During peak periods in the summer, Vancouver hotels have occupancy rates ‘way into the 90-per-cent range,’ said Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Ty Speer.
 

During peak periods in the summer, Vancouver hotels have occupancy rates ‘way into the 90-per-cent range,’ said Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Ty Speer.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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