Home helper Airbnb just a minnow in the Tasmanian housing market

This article originally appeared in The Mercury. 

American statistician William Edwards Deming said “In God we trust, all others  must bring data.”

When debating Hobart’s housing crisis too many participants have not brought data but rather inaccurate assumptions and half-baked analyses. The end result has been a muddying of waters which has created considerable confusion for policymakers and the public alike.

To help inform evidence-based debate and policy making, Airbnb on behalf of its community has made a submission to the Legislative Council Select Committee into Short Stay Accommodation in Tasmania. The crux of our submission is home sharing is an economic lifeline for Tasmanian families and small businesses, our community is growing alongside not at the expense of traditional operators and home sharing is simply not to blame for the current housing crisis.

At a time when the cost-of-living is painfully high, Tasmanians have overwhelming turned to home sharing to either earn extra income or make family holidays or visiting loved ones more affordable. Over the past 12 months the typical Airbnb host has earnt approximately $188 a week or $9,800 a year in income income. This is roughly the equivalent of a 13 percent pay rise when compared to the average Tasmanians earnings. This extra income is helping Tasmanians meet their housing costs and for some keep a roof over their heads. In 2017, 50% of Airbnb hosts in Tasmania said that sharing their spare space helped them afford to stay in their homes, 45% of Airbnb hosts used their Airbnb earnings to make ends meet, and 4% of hosts reported that hosting helped them avoid eviction or foreclosure.

As we’ve consistently maintained, tourism is not a zero-sum game. For Airbnb to grow, no providers have to shrink. Our community has grown alongside – not at the expense of – traditional operators, including hotels. It doesn’t matter how you cut it tourism in Tasmania is booming. According to Tourism Research Australia for year ending March 2018 in Tasmania the number of international visitors grew 20% to more than 300,400 and the number of domestic visitors grew 10% to more than 2.8 million. The rise of home sharing has been indispensable to driving and sustaining this tourism boom. Our community gives consumers greater and more affordable choices, and allows Tasmania to accommodate huge surges in demand, particularly during major events like Dark MOFO.

Despite claims to the contrary, the tourism industry remains healthy and confident about the future. Traditional accommodation providers enjoy some of the highest occupancy rates in the country and Tasmania is currently in the middle of a traditional accomodation building boom. The Office of the Coordinator General in April estimated there were more than 4,182 new hotel and accommodation rooms being built in Tasmania. Hardly the sign of an industry that is struggling or in need of government assistance.

What’s more, the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania’s 2018 Autumn Survey found 78% of operators were positive about the next 12 months and the Business Confidence Index for April 2018 stood at 101.5 points – higher than any point in 2017.

In other words, since the Tasmanian Government introduced new statewide rules for home sharing the tourism industry has become more confident – not less.

The principal critique of home sharing and the current rules has been the alleged impact on housing affordability. At its simplest, the argument goes that more entire home listings on Airbnb means more homes are being taken from the housing market. Indeed, just last week the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Social Change doubled down on this very argument in its Housing Update. Despite being good-intentioned, the report and the argument itself are wrong and too simplistic.

The fact is Airbnb is simply not a significant factor in the local housing market. In 2017, total active entire home Airbnb listings represented less than 1.5 percent of Tasmania’s and Hobart’s housing stock. In Greater Hobart, the total number of entire home listings booked for more than 180 days was just 0.22% of the housing market.

Holding just a fifth of one percent of the housing market responsible for Hobart’s housing crisis just isn’t credible and, more seriously, distracts from focusing on the real causes of the crisis like the lack of affordable housing, the planning system or taxation incentives like negative gearing.

The housing crisis began long before Airbnb arrived on the scene and is a wickedly complex problem. But it is a problem that simply will not be solved by relying on inaccurate conclusions or ignoring the real and biggest causes. Airbnb remains committed to working with policymakers to ensure the regulatory framework gets the balance right and doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Brent Thomas is Airbnb’s Head of Public Policy Australia & New Zealand