The current draft of the Tourism Amendment Bill fails to distinguish between the formal and informal accommodation sectors, and could create unfair conditions for home sharing, according to Airbnb.

A proposed amendment to the Bill authorises the Minister to determine “thresholds with regard to short-term home rental”.

In a notice sent to Airbnb hosts recently, the company expressed its concerns and called on hosts to make their voices heard by writing to the Ministry.

“If passed, the amendment will provide the Tourism Minister the authority to introduce thresholds to short-term rentals,” the letter reads. “While Airbnb supports fair and proportional rules that benefit local people, we are concerned that this Bill opens up the possibility to create unfair conditions for home sharing.”

Velma Corcoran, Country Manager Sub-Saharan Africa at Airbnb, told Tourism Update that while the platform supported regulation, the current proposals needed work.

“We believe that there is a clear difference between occasionally sharing space in your home and running a corporate hotel chain, but current proposals don’t make that distinction,” she said.

“To make sure that rules work for the many, not the few, we want to continue working with the government on clear, fair and proportionate rules that distinguish between occasional hosts and big businesses. Rules need to help spread the benefits of tourism and encourage everyone to take part in South Africa’s vibrant tourism scene – not just big hotel chains.”

While the amendment does not specify whether the thresholds will be based on bed nights or revenue, a representative from the Department of Tourism stated at a recent stakeholder meeting that the thresholds could be according to the number of nights, adding that this would ensure all Airbnb hosts got their share of guests.

There are more than 60 000 South African homes listed on Airbnb, and the platform accounts for one in eight visitors to South Africa.

Regulation of the informal accommodation market, and Airbnb in particular, is something the industry has long been lobbying for, citing unfair competition from Airbnb hosts who do not register for tax, and are not subjected to the same compliance required of guesthouses and bed and breakfast establishments.

“This came as a necessity,” Tourism Business Council of South Africa CEO, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, told Tourism Update of the proposed amendments. He also said, though, that on what basis the thresholds would be determined and applied needed to be clarified.

For example, he said, if the thresholds were determined by a number of days, it didn’t necessarily mean that the host could not exceed this, but rather that hosts accommodating guests beyond these thresholds would need to register as a business.

Tshivhengwa emphasised that the Bill was still in draft and open to consultation.

“Hopefully, in a few months, a decision can be taken for the benefit of everyone in the industry. I don’t think that there will be adverse effects on anyone,” he said, adding that short-term rental would always have its place as a subsector.

The TBCSA is making a submission together with its affiliate associations, including Satsa and Fedhasa (Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa)

The draft amendment can be accessed here and the deadline for comments has been extended to July 15.