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Planning controls not keeping pace with online holiday rentals

holiday house stock image

Australia needs new planning tools to manage the rapid growth in listings on Airbnb and other online holiday rental platforms, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Sydney.

A study into planning responses to the impact of short-term holiday rental platforms was conducted by a University of Sydney research team led by Professor Nicole Gurran, Chair of Urban and Regional Planning and Policy. The research project was commissioned by the Australian Coastal Councils Association.

The report finds that since Airbnb was launched in Australia in 2011, more than 130,000 properties were listed, equating to approximately 0.2 percent of total housing stock. In coastal communities, however, the study identified a median rate of 4 percent of all housing stock, with rates in key locations found to be even higher; in the Byron Shire Council area over 17 percent of all housing is listed on online holiday rental platforms.

This can create a real problem for those looking to find traditional, long-term rental properties. The report also found that in just over 18 months, from April 2016 to December 2017, the number of Airbnb listings doubled in NSW, Vic, Qld and WA.

Holiday homes are part of the character of coastal towns and there is no dispute that online rental platforms have created new tourism opportunities in coastal areas. However, in some communities, the rapid growth in listings has emerged as a major challenge with potentially serious consequences.

“Coastal councils have found long-standing planning and management practices have not kept pace with the changes occurring in the holiday rental market,” said Barry Sammels, Chair of the Australian Coastal Councils Association.

“Traditional holiday accommodation providers are required to meet minimum fire and safety standards. As matters stand, these requirements do not apply to properties listed in Airbnb and similar platforms, posing a potential risk to guests.”

Professor Nicole Gurran said holiday home-sharing via online platforms, has a particular significance for coastal communities where tourism forms an integral part of the local economy.

“Getting the right planning and regulatory framework in place to manage short-term rentals in the digital era is critical to the economic and social sustainability of these communities,” she said.

The University of Sydney study found that in some areas of coastal Australia online listings of holiday lets far exceed existing tourism accommodation. For example, on the Mornington Peninsula and in Byron Bay beds in Airbnb listings are more than five times those of traditional accommodation.

The report identified that State governments need to help councils by setting baseline standards for short term rentals in residential areas and clarify the definition and use of short-term rental accommodation. They should support local planning and regulatory responses which reflect the specific contexts of each community and ensure that online platforms share data and help ensure local requirements are met.

Professor Gurran said providing data on short-term holiday rental listings to councils is necessary to inform local planning and management responses and to maximise the benefits that online platforms can bring to coastal communities.

The report notes that Airbnb, which is just one holiday rental platform, advertises more than 3 million properties worldwide since it commenced operations in 2008. This is more than the total number of rooms provided by the Hilton and Marriott hotel chains combined.

Barry Sammels said the study found there are significant differences in the impact of the online holiday rental sector in different coastal communities.

“Some of the 12 councils taking part in the study reported an increase in resident complaints and other disruptions caused by visitors staying in short-term holiday rentals,” he said.

“Some permanent residents felt their community had been invaded by tourism and spoke of the stress involved in not knowing when a new party of visitors was likely to arrive next door and how they were going to behave within residential neighbourhoods.”

The research identifies a definite need for clearer guidelines from state governments on how to manage these issues which are rapidly emerging around Australia.

Source: Australian Coastal Councils Association