Should Jamaica Allow Airbnb’s to Operate in the “Ghetto”

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Travel News: Recently, Airbnb has been in the local news quite a bit due to the impact the service is having on the tourism industry in Jamaica. However, many Jamaicans and even some of the major industry players have no idea what it really is, how it works, and more importantly how it is changing Jamaica for the better or for the worst.

Based in San Francisco, California, Airbnb has revolutionized the way people travel not just in Jamaica but around the world.

The online community marketplace is open to anyone brave enough to allow strangers into their home regardless of where they reside, their economic status, education or profession. There is no cost to place your listing and currently there are no restrictions as to what type of space one can list for rent. Some travelers book spare rooms, single beds, living room couches, and even pay good money to rent tents, caves or rural units with no light or running water just for the adventure and a cool Instagram photo. The more unique the space the better and themed properties always bring in the most profits.

How does Airbnb work?
The traveler pays online with a credit card, PayPal or other payment options and the host receives the money minus fees into their personal bank account a day after the guest checks-in. The community is run on a review and rating system fueled by encouraging travelers and Hosts to speak freely and publicly about their experiences. People often complain about unpleasant experiences or pictures that don’t match the descriptions etc. All comments are visible and can sometimes be mean thus promoting a high level of honesty, accountability and standards. Airbnb also has a Superhost rewards program for individuals that provide excellent service rewarding them with perks, additional advertising, and increased booking and income-generating opportunities.

All users are required to provide government ID, social media and personal contact information before being allowed to book on the platform and each listing is covered by a $1 million dollar insurance policy against damage and theft.  Although no online marketplace is full-proof, Airbnb is currently leading the pack and winning all kinds of awards for customer service and innovation.

Jamaica now has an estimated 10,000 listed units for rent on Airbnb.  The average Host earns a reported $2,600US per year with the average guest staying in the unit for five days or more. Hosts set their own prices and can charge as much as a guest is willing to pay. It’s reported that Airbnb host earned over $2.4 million US in 2017 and the 2018 figures are rumored to be close to double that amount as the industry rapidly grows. Although Airbnb is the most recognized name, they are not the only players in the short-term rental game. Platforms such as Booking.com, Homeaway, Expedia and others are also cashing in on the new travel trend.

The Jamaica Real Estate Broad, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, and the Jamaica Association of Villas and Apartments have definitely with a capital “D”  noticed the competition and are all collectively calling on the government to regulate the newcomers with taxes, and tougher security requirements inorder to create a more level playing fields. However, all the stakeholders have the same major concerns, crime, and as elections loom the debate is heating up.

Should the government restrict Airbnb hosting in certain crime-ridden or ghettos areas? or is Airbnb a possible unlikely solution for solving the crime situation by stimulating economic growth within poorer communities.

Case and point, currently both Trench Town and Tivoli Gardens now offer over five different “Culture Walks” or “Ghetto Tours” as a part of the Airbnb Experience service costing as much as $81US dollars per person. The tours visit local shops, bars, restaurants, and hair salons etc. Some take guests deep into the community highlighting the people and history of the area with so far, very few negative incidents.

Imagine the impact it would have on a single mother with three children who would now be able to earn an income from her home without having to leave find child care or the retired couple who can supplement their income relying less on remittance for survival not to mention the student tour guide who can now afford tuition all because of home-sharing.

One thing is for sure, as the short-term rental markets grow in Jamaica, the government will need to get involved and history has shown that the poorer members of the community usually get the shorter end of the stick. The trend towards All-Inclusive resorts virtually cut out the average Jamaican’s contact with visitors to the island crippling many small business owners.

Airbnb has again opened up the market giving Jamaicans an opportunity to benefit from the well celebrated boom in Jamaica’s tourism.

Regardless of how the government decides to respond, the question still remains, what do we do about the crime. If we want  tourism to continue to strive at any level a crime solution must be found.

By: Maliaka Bryce

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