Airbnb launches government home-sharing petition in Hong Kong

Hong Kong: Airbnb has appealed for Hong Kong residents to sign an online petition in support of home-sharing in the city.

This was an attempt to persuade the city’s government to reconsider a tough amendment bill against illegal short-term rentals and unauthorised guest houses.

The home-sharing platform’s online petition is entitled “Protect Home-Sharing in Hong Kong”, which will run until 31 December.

Mike Orgill, Airbnb’s public policy director for the Asia-Pacific market, said the signature campaign aimed to gather public support to urge the government to change its mind over a more stringent amendment bill.

The legislative council held the first bills committee meeting last week to assess the bill and the feedback will be submitted to legislators and the home affairs department for further consideration.

Orgill said he hoped the Airbnb campaign would persuade the government to agree to a new round of public consultation on home-sharing due to the fact the bill was based on outdated legislation in 2014 when home-sharing platforms were still in their developmental infancy.

Orgill also called for a simplified licencing regime to allow short-term home rentals to develop legally in the city.

He said: “The amendment bill neglects the need to visit a regulatory framework for home-sharing, which has grown rapidly in Hong Kong in recent years, generating HK$2.6 billion (US$332 million) in economic activity in 2017.

“It is time for Hongkongers to urge the government to take real action, maintaining the competitiveness of Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s World City’ and provide opportunities for travellers to experience the true beauty of Hong Kong,” he added.

In the petition, Airbnb said if the bill were to be passed into law, it would “hinder the future development of home sharing in Hong Kong, depriving travellers of the right to enjoy a unique, authentic and local experience.”

It added: “Hong Kong residents also lose the opportunity to increase their income by making good use of their extra space. This would risk Hong Kong’s global reputation as a tourism and travel hub.”

Under the proposed hotel and guest house accommodation (amendment) bill, the hotel and guest house accommodation authority would have the power to launch a crackdown on short-term home rentals and unlicensed hotels and guest houses.

Property owners face strict liability offences if the sufficient evidence without a statutory defence is displayed. The maximum fines for operating unlicensed guest houses would be raised from HK$200,000 to HK$500,000 and imprisonment increased from two years to three years.

The authority would also be able to apply for search warrants to gain access to and raid flats suspected of being unlicensed short-term rentals.

Under the current law, premises that offer sleeping accommodation for a fee for a period of less than 28 days are required to have licences.

Meanwhile, hoteliers have backed the restrictions after calling for tougher sanctions against Airbnb users.

In Hong Kong, around 5,000 people currently have their properties listed as temporary lodgings on Airbnb and last year, the average rental period of Airbnb lodgings was about 40 nights in Hong Kong. Approximately 600,000 visitors have used Airbnb for accommodation in the city in the last year.

The topic will be a point of discussion at the upcoming, inaugural Serviced Apartment Summit Asia, organised by International Hospitality Media with ONYX Hospitality Group as patron sponsor and host.

The summit will take place at Amari Watergate Bangkok in Thailand on 21 and 22 February.