Hotel association wants Putrajaya to regulate Airbnb

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KUALA LUMPUR: The government must regulate property-letting website Airbnb, in the interest of security, safety and ensuring a level playing field, says Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) President Cheah Swee Hee.

Airbnb is described as a “peer-to-peer online marketplace and homestay network that enables people to list or rent short-term lodging in residential properties”. The service has grown in popularity over the past seven years since its inception in 2008.

In an interview with FMT, Cheah explained that unlike Airbnb units, hotels were compelled to abide by numerous regulations set by the authorities, from operating procedures to building safety requirements.

“Take for example the Registration of Guests Act 1965 which requires hotels to not only register guests, but also check the validity of their travel documents.”

This he said also enabled the authorities to keep track of foreign tourists who entered the country.

“So if a foreign terror suspect or criminal came into the country under the guise of a tourist or visiting businessman and stayed in the city without needing to register where he stayed, it would be harder for the authorities to track him.”

Cheah also said that hotel buildings needed to adhere to fire safety requirements such as annual fire safety audits.

He said Airbnb also posed a risk to residents of neighbourhoods or apartments where their units were rented out.

“Residents pay management fees for security, yet they will not know who the Airbnb renters are who are allowed to come in and out. So what is the point of paying for security?”

Cheah also said Airbnb had a definite impact on the hotel industry, although it was difficult to ascertain just what that impact was.

“We are concerned that if there is no proper inventory of the number of rooms for accommodation available in the country – as Airbnb rooms or units are not taken into account – we will not know if we have an oversupply of rooms for inbound and domestic tourists.”

This however did not mean that hotels were afraid of the competition. On the contrary, Cheah said that no one could stop anyone from pursuing their own business models.

“However, we are concerned that without regulation, we will not have a level playing field. Hotels pay commercial rates for utilities and various licensing fees amongst others, while Airbnb units enjoy residential rates.”

“All we want is a level playing field and for Airbnb to be regulated. Even New York has started regulating Airbnb. We should too.”

In July this year, landlords in George Town, Penang, lamented that action had been taken by the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) for letting out their houses for short stays, similar to those offered through Airbnb.