Airbnb says it can help Hong Kong’s tourism industry recover faster after the coronavirus pandemic subsides, pointing to research that found each guest who booked accommodation through the app spent nearly HK$6,000 (US$774) on average during their stay.
The company has come under greater scrutiny in the Asian financial hub, where hoteliers claim most listings are skirting licensing rules for short-term home rentals. A new law set to take effect later this year threatens stiff penalties for flat owners offering stays who run afoul of the regulatory framework.
Despite the crackdown, Airbnb remains committed to Hong Kong and can play a role in reviving its decimated tourism industry, a senior executive says.
“We believe that when the travellers come back and the border restrictions lifted, we can see Airbnb help Hong Kong tourism recover in a faster manner,” said Marvin Ma, the company’s senior public policy and communications manager for Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Ma admitted the company was suffering along with the wider tourism industry following travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic. In the first six months of this year, arrivals fell 90 per cent, to 3.52 million, from 34.9 million for the same period in 2019, according to the Tourism Board.
The company planned to remain in Hong Kong despite the Legislative Council passing a law in June aimed at cracking down on illegal lodgings offering stays of less than 28 days, as well as on unlicensed guest houses, according to Ma.
The Hotel and Guest house Accommodation Authority will also be able to apply for a search warrant to allow officers to raid flats suspected of being used as unlicensed holiday rentals from December.
Ma said the Legco debate brought forward views supporting a different regulatory regime for homestay lodgings in the city.
But tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing warned Airbnb to abide by the city’s laws and refrain from promoting or putting unlicensed rentals on its platform.
“It’s true that Airbnb is gaining popularity around the world as tourists look for a variety of cultural experiences,” Yiu said. “But in a densely populated Hong Kong, the government needs to put in place various regulations regarding fire safety, security and public hygiene to oversee guest houses to ensure tourists’ safety. That’s why the government tightened the law on short-term rentals.”
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