The Cayman Islands has become the latest destination to embrace Airbnb, the company which started as an informal couch surfing service and was once considered a threat to traditional tourism businesses and to government coffers.
Officials hope a formal agreement will make it easier for Caymanians to profit from the islands’ tourism boom by renting rooms or villas to visitors through the online marketplace without government losing out on vital room tax revenue.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell and Carlos Munoz, Airbnb’s regional representative, signed a memorandum of understanding at the Government Administration Building Wednesday, agreeing to joint marketing, data sharing and regulatory standards for hosts.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the memorandum was a “significant milestone” for the islands and would create more opportunities for Caymanians to become entrepreneurs without huge expense.
He said the expansion of Airbnb in Cayman would assist in bringing new rooms online and allowing Caymanians to benefit from the growth in the industry.
He said it would also spread tourism growth throughout the island and allow visitors the opportunity for meaningful interaction with local people.
“We all have an opportunity now to become part of the tourism product and to share our culture with visitors,” the minister said. “People want to experience our culture, our home.”
He said it would also give tourism officials a degree of oversight to help ensure properties being rented to visitors were up to standard and compliant with regulatory requirements, including being licensed through the Hotel Licensing Board and paying visitor room taxes.
Mr. Munoz said Airbnb was growing exponentially, with more listings around the world than any hotel chain.
He said the company would be hosting two town hall meetings per year in the Cayman Islands along with government officials to educate its “hosts” on their regulatory obligations and to provide information to people who wanted to rent their rooms using the service.
There are currently 470 properties in the Cayman Islands listed with Airbnb but both Mr. Kirkconnell and Mr. Munoz suggested the partnership should increase that number.
“This is a very old practice, of hosting people in your homes,” said Mr. Munoz. “It is also now the future. Through technology, we are making it easier for people to travel and connect. It is our aim through this MOU to be able to bring more folks to the Cayman Islands to experience what you have to offer.”
In other island nations, the growth of Airbnb has been resisted by tourism officials because it has diverted visitors to smaller properties, which are harder to regulate and to collect taxes from.
Mr. Kirkconnell said Cayman has not had that issue, but suggested the agreement would help it keep better tabs on the industry to ensure there are no illegal renters operating. There will also be a degree of data sharing through the MOU, allowing tourism officials to get better information on where Airbnb users are staying and where they are coming from.