Being that online accommodation bookings should prove to be one of many ongoing issues in our communities, it’s clearly one that needs to be explored further, and in a hurry, to keep things fair and aboveboard.
In recent weeks, the Outlook has received some letters to the editor in support of allowing Airbnb rentals in the community, generally because the writers’ experience in booking outside of commercial properties was such an enjoyable one.
But that’s not the point.
Nobody is disputing the fact that properties booked online through Airbnb or VRBO (vacation rentals by owner), for example, can provide a unique, different lodging experience. There are those who like commercial five-star hotels, those who prefer a possibly friendlier B&B experience, those who prefer the hostel experience. There are those who don’t mind shelling out hundreds a night for a stay, those who keep budgets to a minimum, and everyone in between.
But, as things now stand in the valley, the issue is of legality, of working within our municipal bylaw framework and ensuring fairness.
Much like Uber ride booking has raised issues in many municipalities, online accommodation rentals have sparked concerns.
Yes, Uber provides a different way of booking a ride and can one get from point A to point B with it, but, in operating outside established municipal bylaws related to driver competence and criminal checks and established maintenance routines, user safety becomes a concern.
In some cases there may be concerns with visitor safety and construction standards with online accommodation rentals, but at this point, in this valley, what matters is that for years our municipalities have had rules and guidelines in place for those who would offer accommodations.
Our communities are full of accommodation options, from the Fairmont Banff Springs to a tiny bedroom that may offer little in creature comfort. But, for the most part, and until the recent emergence of alternative online booking systems, those providing accommodations met standards.
In the case of B&Bs, homeowners wanting the experience of hosting guests from around the world have gone through the entire process of meeting municipal requirements for number of rooms, parking spots, business licences, development permits, proximity requirements, etc. They’ve also been paying taxes at a rate commensurate with operating a commercial business of a certain size.
So, after stepping through all these hoops, and jumping over municipal hurdles to operate a legitimate B&B, who can blame them for feeling more or less punished for playing by the rules?
Much like taxi companies that comply with regulations to run a business feel threatened by generally regulation-free Uber, legitimate B&B owners have every right to feel threatened by Airbnb and VRBO operators who comply with no regulations and have jumped through zero hoops en route to becoming instant accommodation providers.
Beyond legitimate B&B operators, many legitimate concerns have been raised by residents who find themselves adjacent to Airbnb and VRBO operations and feel party houses and neighbourhoods overfull with visitor street parking is not what they bought into as a homeowner.
Before the situation gets completely out of hand, and before neighbourly disputes with those providing online accommodations get nasty, some passage through the gray areas of the online world will have to be found.