Hoteliers Body Wants Tax On Airbnb Operators

By Albert Ferguson, Jamaica Gleaner

Western Bureau:

Owners and operators of Airbnb properties should be asked to pay hotel accommodation tax, according to Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), who is arguing that that’s the case in other tourism destinations across the region.

Jamaicans who provide home-stay vacations on the Airbnb platform welcomed more than 89,000 visitors in 2018 with an average spending rate of approximately US$2,600.

“We maintain that, at the very least, basic health and safety regulations and minimum tax inputs be implemented, as has been done in other regions,” said Robinson, in giving the rationale for his stance.

Robinson made the suggestion that taxes be levied on the Airbnb sector while addressing the JHTA’s 58th annual general meeting in Montego Bay, St James, on the weekend.

“In this case, the GART (Guest Accommodation Room Tax) would be an appropriate taxing mechanism,” said Robinson, who noted that the sector is growing and the room stock for Jamaica is on an upward trend.

“Airbnb continues to grow, gaining more popularity here in Jamaica, (but) currently, there is no tax on these units or any minimum health and safety standards,” said Robinson. “This, we suggest, is critical to protect not just Brand Jamaica and our visitors, but the very persons operating these units.”

Robinson’s stance differs from that taken by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett earlier this year.

…BARTLETT SOFTENS STANCE AGAINST CHARGING PROPERTY OWNERS

Last May, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett told The Gleaner that small-scale Jamaican property owners who provide hospitality services in the country’s tourism sector would not be required to pay tax on their properties as was the case in places like the British Virgin Islands.

“We are not going after direct taxation to impact the hosts, who are, by and large, the small entrepreneurs of our country, who are making the inclusiveness of tourism something real,” said Bartlett at the time.

“But rather, we are looking at a broader picture to see how Airbnb itself can partner with Jamaica to provide the necessary resource support for the many projects we have, particularly in destination, where assurance strategies are being developed.”

Bartlett, who delivered the keynote address at the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association annual general meeting, has since softened his stance as, during his presentation, he said operators on the Airbnb platform could be asked to contribute to the country’s coffers.

He said the Government had taken account of Robinson’s arguments, and that the Jamaica Tourist Board and Tourism Product Development Company Ltd were in the process of finalising agreements with Airbnb providers that would enable them to contribute appropriately to the revenue of the country “in the manner that you suggested, with some modifications”.