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Airbnb tourist surge: Councils may consider taxes, register to support long-term residents looking to rent

ABC News logo ABC News 4 days ago Amy Bainbridge and Rebecca Armitage
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Two shire councils may consider introducing new measures such as taxes and a property register to help deal with the added tourist pressure from sharing websites like Airbnb.

Councillors with the Hobart City Council and Byron Shire have both raised concerns about the pressures the sharing sites are adding to infrastructure.

Both are tourist hotspots and are facing concerns from locals and welfare groups that there are no longer any affordable homes to rent long-term.

Their concerns echo similar experiences overseas, where some cities have moved to tighten regulations to protect locals.

"I'm hearing that it's getting very hard to find rental houses in Hobart, and I've got no doubt in my mind that Airbnb is one of those pressures," Hobart Greens councillor Phil Cocker told the ABC.

Mr Cocker said Hobart must consider following the lead of cities such as Barcelona and San Francisco, which have already moved to curb the growth of visitors.

"You've had riots in Barcelona, you've had great big debates in New York and San Francisco, you've got other cities who are looking at imposing a taxation system to protect the fabric of the communities there," he said.

"First is registration — a thorough, transparent registration of properties. There needs to be penalties for those who don't register and are operating.

Byron Shire Councillor Paul Spooner wants a bed tax on visitors to raise money for affordable housing projects. © Provided by ABC News Byron Shire Councillor Paul Spooner wants a bed tax on visitors to raise money for affordable housing projects.

"And I think we need to understand the impacts of what's happening with Airbnb and look at taxation regimes that to some extent discourage the conversion of rentals."

He said any taxes collected could potentially be used to fund housing projects.

Data from the independent website Inside Airbnb shows Hobart listings have gone up from 416 to 774 in the past 10 months. Of those, 561 are entire homes.

Mr Cocker said he was concerned that landlords had stopped renting out properties to long-term tenants.

Byron Bay attracts nearly 2 million visitors every year. © ABC News Byron Bay attracts nearly 2 million visitors every year.

Byron Bay councillor wants register and 'bed tax'

Byron Bay has just 10,000 residents, but each year 2 million people visit the popular holiday destination on the NSW North Coast.

The town is grappling with the added pressure from the sharing economy, with residents leasing out their homes on sites like Airbnb.

In the past year listings on Airbnb have increased from 1,488 to 1,794, according to the independent site Inside Airbnb.

Byron Shire councillor Paul Spooner wants his council to consider implementing a bed tax for visitors, as well as a proper register for who is holiday letting.

"We're guessing at the moment who is actually doing this in our community — that is the first step we need to be able to take to manage what is going on," he said.

"Once we have a registration process in place, then we can start to regulate it more effectively."

He said one example of a bed tax would be to charge tourists $5 per person per night, with that money to go back to council to help with infrastructure or housing projects.

"My understanding is that in different countries, that's certainly the case. In places like Barcelona, it's been a famous impact of tourism and Airbnb on that residential community, where the local government has taken steps to instigate taxes, and also limitations on when people can rent. So we need to consider those things," Mr Spooner said.

"This is not anti-tourism. This is actually embracing tourism to ensure that it doesn't drown out a community."

Airbnb says it would support taxes

Brent Thomas is the head of public policy for Airbnb Australia and New Zealand. © ABC News Brent Thomas is the head of public policy for Airbnb Australia and New Zealand.

Airbnb Australia's Brent Thomas told the ABC his company had been enormously beneficial for Australia's tourism sector.

"Around the issue of a tourism tax or a bed tax or an accommodation tax, yes we support that," he said.

"We work with other governments around the world supporting those kinds of taxes — provided there's a level playing field with other operators in the short-term accommodation market.

"There are none of those in Australia right now, but we would support those."

He said Airbnb supported different cities coming up with their own regulatory approaches.

"We see that in some parts of the world, there's a range of regulatory levers available to governments to deal with some of these issues. We support a different approach for different cities and different states, and in any case, each city is different," Mr Thomas said.

"But fundamentally the regulations need to support people sharing their own homes, or extra space in their own homes, provided that's done in a respectful and responsible way."

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