The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) has told its 32 member associations of a new challenge for the sector from the rapid rise of the online vacation home rental industry and other sharing economy businesses in the region.
Fueled by hosting platform companies like Airbnb and Uber, there has been explosive growth in short-term vacation home rentals across the region. Airbnb recorded more than 25,000 listings in the Caribbean as of February and is projecting significant growth this year.
Destinations such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Canc�n, Martinique and Barbados feature the most listings on Airbnb with continued growth projected throughout the entire region.
St Lucia expects a 17 per cent year-over-year increase in stays in 2016.Aruba saw the number of visitors using non-traditional accommodations (private homes, apartments, villas, condominiums) in 2015 jump from 24 per cent of visitors to 33 per cent.
Taking advantage of new technology platforms, many residential owners around the world are sharing in tourism revenues by providing accommodations through host platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway, which have emerged as the industry's top leaders.
In response, the CHTA has released a resource guide aimed at creating a level playing field through taxation and regulation of the sector.
"As many governments throughout the world have experienced, the sharing economy made possible by these hosting platforms is happening whether or not we choose to embrace it and it presents new opportunities for the industry as well," CHTA president Karolin Troubetzkoy said.
"This leaves us with two options: we can allow it to develop as an untaxed and under-regulated market and lose out on tremendous opportunities or we can bring all the players to the table to work out solutions to the benefit of all concerned parties."
Troubetzkoy said CHTA is taking a "positive, constructive and balanced approach" to the rapidly developing accommodations sector but is also calling for a fair play arrangement regarding taxation, as well as standards beyond those applicable to residences.
"CHTA is not calling for there to be the same detailed and sometimes onerous regulatory requirements for hotels, but for a level of regulation beyond those which simply apply to residences," she said.
"These are commercial enterprises regardless as to how one looks at it and the welfare of the guest and health, safety and reputation of the host property, the hosting platform, and the destination must be considered."
The CHTA guide gives a summary of the key issues surrounding the sharing economy, its impact on the sector globally and regionally, and opportunities presented by this emerging sector.
Underscoring the untapped potential for Caribbean tourism, a 2016 Airbnb study estimates that the 50 largest cities in the US would have collected an additional US$200 million in occupancy taxes in 2015 if taxation measures and supporting collection and enforcement protocols had been in place.