Airbnb holds out for state support to gain foothold

Airbnb holds out for state support to gain foothold

Airbnb, an online service that lets property owners rent out their residences directly to others, is calling for legal support from the Thai government, saying its business model can help strengthen the local economy and generate more income for communities.

Nate Blecharczyk believes Airbnb can help increase domestic tourism.

Having a good relationship with the government would facilitate the company's operations, said Nate Blecharczyk, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Airbnb, who was in Bangkok last week and met Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul to discuss how Airbnb can drive the tourism industry through its household-sharing platform.

Mr Blecharczyk said staying at certified properties will make visitors feel more comfortable.

Airbnb lets owners make money off their properties and provides another option for people looking for accommodation.

The US-based company has seen impressive success since it launched its service in 2008 and now spans the globe in terms of reach and properties listed.

The value proposition to renters is that landlords/owners with unique properties or properties in unique locations can list their space to give holidaymakers a native or local experience they would miss at fully serviced hotel chains.

As property owners can directly rent their residences to end-users, rates per night typically are cheaper than booking a similar sized room at a conventional hotel.

Many in the hospitality industry are concerned with how much Airbnb will disrupt the sector, perhaps leading to the cannibalisation of the professional hotel industry.

Families with modest budgets, local travellers, those planning longer stays or those looking for a more native accommodation often oft for Airbnb listings, Mr Blecharczyk said.

Holidaymakers in search of special properties, such as renting a private island, mountain cabins, beach villas or even castles, also look to the site.

There are roughly 55,000 Airbnb listings in Thailand. Last year, 982,000 foreign travellers used Airbnb for their stays in Thailand, good for annual growth of 150% from the year before.

Most of them visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi. Those foreign tourists generated 13 billion baht worth of income last year.

Meanwhile, 350,000 Thais have travelled and used Airbnb for their stays in over 100 different countries. Top destinations for them were Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Kyoto, Singapore, London, Paris, Sapporo, Rome, Milan and Los Angeles. The number grew 150% year-on-year from 2015.

The home-sharing site remains illegal in Thailand. Operating a hotel in Thailand without a licence violates the hotel law, and Thai authorities have been cracking down on non-registered hotels the past several years as part of a reform of the industry.

Mr Blecharczyk said the company has talked with 191 authorities worldwide, at both the national and local levels, about obtaining legal support. It took two years to achieve an agreement with Japan. Tanzania, South Australia, France and Portugal also recently came to terms with Airbnb.

Mr Blecharczyk said Asia was Airbnb's fastest-growing region in 2016 in terms of inbound travel, with 177% year-on-year growth. There were 10.8 million guest arrivals in Asia last year.

"This is a new business model for Thailand, but we hope Thai authorities understand this business can help drive tourism," Mr Blecharczyk said.

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