Parliamentary group seeks level playing field with the sharing economy

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Tourism is recommending sharper regulation and more flexible powers to help create a level playing field in its final report on the impact of the sharing economy on the UK tourism industry.

Citing key aspects of the report the report, committee chair Gordon Marsden MP said that while B&Bs and hotels are subject to fire safety regulations and other checks, homeowners do not have to prove that their properties are safe before letting them out via holiday rental sites such as Airbnb.

The28-page report recognizes that sharing economy businesses can provide significant tourism benefits for UK destinations, but concludes that more needs to be done to protect customer safety, maintain a level regulatory playing field across the tourism industry, take into account the needs of local communities and ensure that all operators of tourism accommodation are paying the appropriate level of taxation.

The committee was set up towards the end of 2016 and at that point a significant amount of evidence was gathered and was preparing to give oral evidence, but was delayed by the General Election, and the group needed subsequently to be re-established with select committees delayed until last autumn. The group has subsequently held oral hearings on the sharing economy.

Marsden said: “The rapidly expanding configuration of sharing economy platforms and variety of choice for visitors and tourism across the UK, in addition to the existing network of large and small hotels, B&Bs and holiday flats, raises urgent issues as to how some of the unintended consequences for those affected should be addressed.”

The configuration of platforms and variety of choice for visitors in tourism across the UK is rapidly expanding and raises certain issues about some of the unintended consequences for those affected should be addressed, according to the report. Four groups of interest need to be considered including users of accommodation provided by the shared economy, the host providing that accommodation via its platforms, the platform holders themselves, and the communities and neighbours affected by the operation and expansion of such accommodation.

The configuration of platforms and variety of choice for visitors in tourism across the UK is rapidly expanding and raises certain issues with regard to some of the unintended consequences for those affected should be addressed. The report takes into consideration the claims that a few sharing economy platforms are taking steps to address some of those unintended consequences, particularly with regard to the growing concerns about the adequacy of fire and utilities.

“Some of them are engaging much more actively with their hosts and with the use of so-called trust seal self-regulation and of de facto kitemarks. But none of that should override the basic principles of a level playing field for all accommodation in terms of responsibilities and requirements for visitor safety whether that comes via the sharing economy platforms or traditional booking agencies,” said Marsden.

The report recommends a light-touch, low-cost statutory registration scheme for visitors’ accommodation and for legislative ease calls for the revival of the Development of Tourism Act, which was passed in 1969 but whose details were never fully implemented.

The report also recommends councils be given powers to set rules regarding the use of residential properties for tourism accommodation, so the growth of that tourism is balanced against the needs of local communities. However, Marsden said the implications of funding cuts in local government in the last five to six years, particularly in regard to public protection officers, and the ability of operations like the firs brigade to be proactive without the resources or information they need are making this issue very problematic. Local authorities need to be given the powers they need to do their job.