It was of course almost inevitable, but hopefully it will send a very strong message to our tourism planners and policymakers that if we portray ourselves as an ‘iconic’ or ‘aspirational’ destination that there are responsibilities that could arise with the perceived status.
After the collapse of a balcony at an Airbnb property in the southern English coastal town of Brighton which resulted in two men and two women being hospitalized with serious leg and arm injuries when they fell from the first floor flat into the basement, all sorts of questions are now being asked. These include the Chairman of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), Noel Josephides, who questioned ‘did the host have a public liability policy which covered for the fact that the property was being rented’ and he queried ‘whether Airbnb has a duty to check the policy’.
Adding ‘if the host was a leaseholder, did he/she need permission from the freeholder before renting the property? If there was a mortgage on the property, then do the terms of the mortgage permit sub-letting? Does Airbnb have a duty to check such details and has the host followed Airbnb instructions’ he asked.
This is yet another enormously grey area with Britain, or maybe just England, leaving the European Union with Brexit. Currently existing EU laws embrace tour operators and what their obligations clearly are. This will all go out the window with Brexit, when the United Kingdom, or what may be left of it, is forced to draft and implement new legislation.
In the Brighton case, Airbnb has removed the property from its listing while ‘it investigates the incident’. But what does that statement mean in reality?
Will they have to hire impartial experts to fully investigate and what will be their obligations having taken a percentage of the accommodation element?
According to their website, Airbnb states that ‘it provides protection insurance against guests injuring themselves or damaging a property, which is automatically included in every hosts account’. But what is that level of cover, who will ensure that it is adequate and applied satisfactorily without forcing the consumer to employ expensive legal counsel?
Tour operators, hotels and even small Bed and Breakfast owners are tightly regulated, but there is currently no requirement for private properties rented on sharing sites like Airbnb to be inspected for health and safety issues. An Airbnb spokesperson stated ‘there have been more than 80 million guest arrivals on Airbnb and problems for hosts and guests are extremely rare’.
Personally, I do not find this statement very assuring and with such important issues do not feel voluntary self regulation is the answer.
While not wanting to single out this company, as there are many other similar operations. You only have to look at how HomeAway has partnered with UEFA Euro2016 (www.homeaway.co.uk/lp/euro2016/ to see another example of widespread non-traditional private lodging usage.
If we wish to project our destination reputation and with such a high percentage of unregulated accommodation providers, perhaps we can start by partnering with our insurance companies to find a simple way of ensuring every lodging option posts proof of public liability cover on individual websites and FB pages.