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Harbour Grace bed and breakfast owner wants even playing field against Airbnb

George Butler in front of the Rothesay House, a bed and breakfast he’s operated for the last 15 years in Harbour Grace.
George Butler in front of the Rothesay House, a bed and breakfast he’s operated for the last 15 years in Harbour Grace. - Chris Lewis

Popular online option for overnight rentals not yet taxed as business




The rise of Airbnbs has left some local business owners feeling cheated.

George Butler and his wife have been running a Bed and Breakfast service out of their property on Water Street in Harbour Grace for approximately 15 years.

Butler tells the Compass business has been good in that span of time, but he worries about facing what he calls an “unfair battle” against a relatively new form of competition – Airbnbs.

Airbnbs have, in recent years, been popping up in nearly every community and city across the country, and internationally.

Essentially, homeowners are renting out portions of their homes on a nightly basis.

Airbnbs generally come at a lower cost per night, when compared to registered bed and breakfasts or hotel rooms, but may not offer the full extent of services provided by a registered bnb, says Butler.

There is one big difference, however, between the two.

Bed and Breakfasts registered to operate as a business pay municipal taxes and other fees.

“We, as a business have so many behind the scenes costs we have to pay,” says Butler. “For example here in Harbour Grace we pay a municipal business tax.

“Airbnbs, as of right now, are free of that burden,” he points out. “It’s so simple for someone to just put a coat of paint on junior’s room and rent it out to people, and they don’t have to worry about much beyond that.”
Butler says he’s not opposed to competition, or travelers choosing Airbnbs over his business.

But he does want fairness.

“I want the competition to be on an even playing ground with me. Right now, that just isn’t the case.”

On the website, one can find Airbnb locations in plenty of communities in the Conception Bay North region, including Carbonear, Spaniard’s Bay and Upper Island Cove, with prices ranging anywhere between $42 and $150 a night, offering just rooms for rent, or entire homes.

Butler tells The Compass it’s not the new options for tourist accommodations he takes issue with, but his sense that Airbnbs are being favoured over bed and breakfasts, or any other such service, by the Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation department.

“I think the department of tourism needs to step up here,” says Butler. “They need to listen to us and understand what we’re saying – and maybe they do, but I just hope we see something come of that sooner rather than later.”

He says due to what he sees as an uneven playing field, the incentive to run bed and breakfast operations will diminish over time.

“Some changes need to be made here, and they need to be made yesterday. I realize it’s not as simple as just deciding one day to change, or create, regulations for such a big industry, but that doesn’t mean it can’t, or shouldn’t be, done,” Butler says. “If not, what’s stopping us from leaving behind the bed and breakfast, and turning it into an Airbnb? Nothing, really, and it would save us thousands every year.”

Hospitality NL (NHL), it seems, shares Butler’s mindset.

In August, NHL called on the provincial government to crack down on Airbnb services, asking that these operations be treated similarly to other such services.

At that time, HNL estimated the province lost about $1 million in HST revenue in 2017 from Airbnbs alone. HNL suggested in a news release that provincial and federal government look into establishing registration fees, taxation or levies, health and safety standards and reporting requirements for Airbnbs, amongst other measures.

“When tourists come to the province, they come expecting to see what they see in the tourism commercials – clothes hanging out on the line, friendly and welcoming people, and great food, that’s us. That’s what bed and breakfasts offer – we’re the tourism commercials,” Butler said.

“Without us, tourism in this province would take a major drop, I think, and that’s something they should really consider here.”


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