Latest Event Updates

Airbnb “verification” what is being offered:

Posted on Updated on

Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO surprise announcement on 100% “verification” of all hosts by the end of 2020, to include “minimum standards” and “basic safety protocol”, a new guest guarantee, if the accommodation listing is wrong (an equal or better alternative or 100% refund), a 24/7/365 manned neighbour complaints hotline and manual checks on all high risk booking (example given of a young person booking a large apartment in their own home town).

Mr Chesky makes it clear that this is a direct reaction to a recent mass killing at a US Airbnb party property and rising complaints about scam listings. He doesn’t give much detail on any of the promises, pointing out that this is an ongoing process, prompted by his very recent decision to change the way Airbnb does business.  He also confirms the intention to take the  company public next year.

The following article includes a link to the interview where the announcement was made.  The written detail and the interview combined allow you to make own judgement’s about exactly what is being offered and what that might or might not include:

https://www.theverge.com/2019/11/6/20951695/airbnb-100-percent-verified-listings-guest-guarantee

Tourism Alliance Manifesto 2020 and beyond

Posted on Updated on

The Tourism Alliance has produced a “Manifesto” for 2020 and beyond, effectively a background briefing document on tourism’s role and importance, which also outlines the Alliance’s shared, common key asks of any future Government.   Most of it will find favour among destination management interest and many of their local business partners.

Several of 12 policy areas and their content should be familiar to you, as should underlying concepts, for example, tourism’s powerful role as an economic distributor, as these are issues that we have been championing on your behalf with both Government and, equally if not more importantly, with colleagues across all sectors of the industry.

There may be the odd item in the manifesto that we might not fully support, but nothing I would suggest that we can live with, at least for the time being.

The document is short enough to read in full.  Once you have done so please consider the merits of circulating it to local politicians and prospective MPs, or later to you new Elected Parliamentary Members. It may also be worth sharing it with local partners and businesses: if only to demonstrate that through you, via us you are representing their interests in the key national strategic policy areas.

Find the manifesto  under the drop down menu from the “National strategies & policies +” menu tab at Britishdestinations.net or go direct to the page at:

https://britishdestinations.net/strategies-and-policies/tourism-industry-strategies-policies/tourism-alliance-manifesto-december-2019-election-and-beyond/

 

Uber and other “taxi” issues

Posted on Updated on

London ride-hailing. Earlier this week Uber lost their licence to operate in London, its biggest single market, for the second time. As with the previous loss, they will be allowed to continue to operate for months if not a year or more while the decision is appealed.  The net effect of Transport for London’s (TfL) two decisions is that Uber’s services have not been curtailed, although a significant degree of uncertainty and potentially acrimonious debate has been introduced, both in London and by association in to other UK Towns and Cities where Uber operates, or may be looking to operate.

There is speculation that if Uber doesn’t retain its licence its estimated 45k drivers and 3.5m customers in London will simply move to one of a number of competing platforms already operating, or who might see Uber’s problems as an opportunity to accelerate plans to join the London market. Whether TfL also has any issues with the operational manner and means of any or all of these other ride-hailing services is unclear.

Claim and counter claim rage. On one side Uber supporters (and there are a lot of them) say that the errors, omissions and system failures that lead to the original loss of licence have now been corrected and this is simply protectionism designed to support the traditional black taxi industry.  At the other end of the scale, TfL believe that there are serious and ongoing causes for concern about the Uber model and business practices which combined make Uber “not fit and proper” to hold a licence in London.  The rights and wrongs of this will again now be settled in court, presumably (hopefully) for the last time?

This is perhaps yet another good example of the dilemma faced by regulating bodies who have a legal responsibility to ensure that licenced or regulated activities are conducted correctly. If they don’t then they will be held to public account as much if not more for any future failing of those they are charged with overseeing.  Meanwhile they are under increasing pressure to take a much more relaxed view on regulation, including apparently from some in Government, who remain keen to see disruptive technologies innovate and shakeup existing business models and established markets.

Before taking a view, it is worth looking at some of the issues that TfL have found in the Uber checks and balances and the potential customer safety issues that these have and, according to TfL at least, might still allow:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50544283

Lest any of us forget, the drivers of taxi and private hire vehicles are licenced precisely because this it is trade that has a history of issues and problems and one that is known to be open to misuse and abuse, some of it on the extreme end of the scale. Fundamentally changing how the business model works, has not fundamentally changed the opportunities for misuse of the system or, more importantly, altered the need to protect customers from abuse via rigorously applied checks on the suitability and character of the drivers employed. Nor has it removed the employer’s responsibility for supervising their employee’s behaviour and for reporting serious breaches to the appropriate authorities.

In the case of platform providers, like Uber, there is an added difficulty. They don’t necessarily wish to be regarded as employers, or the drivers as employees and will do pretty much everything they can to avoid that relationship and the raft of responsibilities attached to those responsibilities becoming legally established. When it comes to balancing the safety of paying customers, innovation, or the specific operating conditions needed for disruptive business models to flourish, I hope would hope you would all agree that public protection should be the first and primary priority.

Ride hailing and the environment. Also, in the news recently, whilst Uber and other similar providers claim that they are reducing car usage in major Towns and Cities and, thus, directly contributing to environmental improvement.  There is growing evidence that their introduction and subsequent growth has directly contributed to a significant increasing number of cars in use, rather than reducing it. Currently the vast majority of those additional vehicles circulating in our major Towns and Cities are fossil fuelled. Until Uber and other platforms fully embrace the use of electric vehicles, some of all of their headline environmental claims and credentials will remain suspect.

The debate about environmental pros and cons of increased use of taxi cabs and private hire vehicles, as opposed, or in parallel to increased use of public transport has some considerable way to run. It is likely to become a specific sub set or subject area within the complex, local transport, carbon net zero debate. Whilst it remains subject to licencing, it is one at least that wider local authority and destination management interests have some reasonable hope of actually physically influencing.

Other taxi issues. A number of other licensing authorities outside London, where Uber operates or may seek to operate in future, will doubtless be looking at the TfL decision and the outcome of any appeal. Indeed, yesterday Manchester expressed a desire to speak to Uber, regarding, I understand, wider licencing issues outlined below.

There are increasing concerns about the general taxi and private hire licencing arrangements in England.  Deregulation measures brought in some years ago that have allowed drivers to obtain a licence in one area and then operate in almost any other, have been called into question by the Transport Select Committee.  The original aim was to encourage competition and make the processes both simpler and less expensive.  The committee believe that the deregulated system is open to abuse that allow unsuitable individuals to obtain licences without due scrutiny; scrutiny that for good practical reason is often best undertaken locally. Manchester, for example, are concerned at the number of Uber drivers operating on licences issued by other authorities that are known to use far more relaxed standards than the City requires when issuing its licences.

Encouraging competition in the market for the issuing of licences is one thing, but in effect undermining local determination of the appropriate standards for the delivery of that licenced service, in the place that the service is then actually delivered is quite another.

A DfT review on the issues raised by the Select Committee, which was about to take place, has now been shelved due to the General Election. It is to be hoped that any new Government will decide to conduct a similar review or as the committee recommended a consultation without the need for a new Select Committee Inquiry or without further encouragement from within or without Parliament.

Interested parties would be well advised to watch out for developments post-election and act accordingly, as without a review or consultation, little or no change is likely.  To date we have taken no active part in this debate. There are mixed views as to whether the issues are important enough to tourism, to destination management and therefore British Destinations members for us to take further action? Member’s views on this would be welcomed.

The Committees key finding and Government response to the 14 recommendation can be accessed at:

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmtran/1507/150704.htm

Sharing economy and safety issues.

Posted on

If anyone needs a reminder of why it is important that safety standards are rigorously applied to all premises used for short-term holiday lets and hotels, guest houses and all other forms of commercial accommodation you need look no further than the recent hotel fire in Eastbourne:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-50529876

Despite the fact that the hotel was destroyed in a breakfast time fire, all c 130 guests and staff were evacuated from the large 4 story building with only a handful of minor injuries. Regardless of the cause (still under investigation), the safe evacuation will be in no small part due to the provision of: appropriate fire detection and alarm systems, fire escapes, fire protection and retardation measures and fire planning and familiarisation among the staff and critically the local fire services. These are all life saving measures typically put in place, albeit to a differing degree appropriate to circumstances, in properly regulated and, where the level of risk dictates it, officially inspected visitor accommodation.

Commiserations to colleague in Eastbourne; a sad loss of an important property but still in many ways a notable success. Properties can always be rebuilt; lost lives and resulting damaged reputation can’t be rebuilt.

Current arguments that such regulation shouldn’t really apply to some or all categories of sharing economy accommodation provision are groundless. The commonly used loopholes that allow hosts to merely self-certify their own provision, or worse still, that allows some platforms to exempt themselves from any responsibility for the product they promote on the basis of caveat emptor, by using wording like, “The host hasn’t reported smoke detectors on the property”, are in our view, totally unacceptable.

A recent data scrape suggests that such caveats on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were in use in over 42k Airbnb listing in the UK. Not all properties will require a CO detector (all electric properties, for example) but even the most basic risk assessment would dictate that fire/smoke detectors are an essential item in almost all but the most basic forms of accommodation.  Even then there are strong grounds for their usage in simple single units like shepherd’s huts, caravans, tents, (cars!) etc.

The law in England and Wales is explicate: “If you have any paying guests, even in your own home, you must comply with the law on fire safety and carry out a risk assessment. A fire in small premises is just as dangerous as one in a larger property. Nearly all the people who die in fires in this country are trapped in domestic premises”. This is a direct quote from the Q&A section of the Government guidance for accommodation providers: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/11085/payingguests.pdf

Safety regulations not only apply to all commercially let accommodation but the premises used should also be easily identifiable to the responsible agencies and thus liable, where it is deemed necessary, to appropriate checks and inspections. If there is no credible threat of enforced checks and balances, abuse inevitably creeps in.

Currently properties available for let on sharing platforms are not easily identifiable, indeed the presentation of detail like property address are, arguably, deliberately opaque unless and until a bookings are made. Consequently, we believe that it is only a matter of time before a death or serious injury of guests and/or neighbouring residents will occur as a result of a combination of a lack of public transparency, the current laisser-faire attitude of the sharing economy sector towards the application of appropriate regulation and standards and the platform’s current avoidance of any moral or legal responsibilities to ensure that the host they are commercially promoting are actually complying.

Our joint experience suggests that the vast majority of guests simply assume that any accommodation promoted will meet the minimum legal standards or it wouldn’t be allowed to be promoted by the, “authorities” or by any responsible commercial operator. Currently that is a heroic assumption. It is also nonsense to claim, as supporters of the current approach do, that user reviews will pick up on and report anything but the most alarmingly obvious failings in gas, electric or fire safety. The two are interlinked in a chicken and egg scenario.  If I think accommodation has to have been checked and inspected and therefore it has to be safe, I am hardly going to notice it’s not and raise it unless it is something so glaring obvious, like exposed wiring, antiquated gas appliances, or a petrol can stored under the stairs!  Even in these extreme examples it is not the customers duty to act in place of those who’s actual duty is to maintain and, if necessary enforce, appropriate standards.

Government are now fully aware of the wider tourism industry’s concerns about safety. If they now fail to act, then they too are arguably equally culpable for any death or serious injury that may occur due to a failure to ensure that the appropriate standards are being universally applied.  This is not an issue about new technologies and the balance of commercial advantage, or the demise of unnecessary red tape; far from it. The sooner “officialdom” and the major sharing platforms realise this and take voluntary or statutory remedial action the better.

 

Conservative and Plaid Cymru manifestos

Posted on

Following the release of the Conservative manifesto the Tourism Alliance have produced an initial summary of tourism or tourism related issues so you and I don’t have to. Similar summaries of the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifesto were circulated last Friday.  As we have members in Wales and by way of balance I have done a very brief summary of the more obvious tourism related elements within Plaid Cymru manifesto. The main Westminster parties have also issued versions of their own manifestos for Welsh voters.

Kurt Janson’s original summary reads:

Looking at the Conservative Party manifesto which is available on the following link:

https://assets-global.website-files.com/5da42e2cae7ebd3f8bde353c/5dda924905da587992a064ba_Conservative%202019%20Manifesto.pdf

The main tourism-related policies are:

  • introduce a Australian-style points-based immigration system based on skills that prioritises people who have a good grasp of English, have been law-abiding citizens in their own countries and have good education and qualifications
  • There will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down
  • A student visa to help universities attract talented young people and allow those students to stay on to apply for work here after they graduate
  • Enforcing charges on those come to the UK and use health services without contributing, doubling the budget for our health tourism enforcement unit.
  • A new Towns Fund will help communities make sure their towns are safe to walk in and a pleasure to be in. It will be available to an initial 100 towns to improve their local economy
  • Boost the high street by cutting business rates for small retail businesses and for local music venues, pubs and cinemas.
  • A cultural capital programme of £250 million to support local libraries and regional museums.
  • A £150 million Community Ownership Fund to encourage local takeovers of civic organisations or community assets that are under threat – local football clubs, but also pubs or post offices.
  • £100 billion in additional infrastructure spending – on roads, rail and other responsible, productive investment including many regional rail initiatives
  • Invest £1 billion in completing a fast-charging network to ensure that everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging station.
  • Consult on the earliest date we can phase out the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars, while minimising the impact on drivers and businesses
  • Restore many of the Beeching lines, reconnecting smaller towns
  • Heathrow can go ahead provided that it can demonstrate that it can meet its air quality and noise obligations
  • Use new air traffic control technology to cut the time aircraft spend waiting to land, reducing delays, noise nuisance and pollution
  • Build on Britain’s pioneering work in electric and low-carbon flight
  • Bring full fibre and gigabitcapable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025
  • Publish an English Devolution White Paper next year
  • Cut the burden of tax on business by reducing business rates via a fundamental review of the system.
  • Increase the Employment Allowance for small businesses
  • Yet another Red Tape Challenge to ensure that regulation is sensible and proportionate
  • Look at improving the working of the Apprenticeship Levy.
  • Launch a review to explore better support for the self-employed.
  • Create a new National Skills Fund worth £3 billion over the next Parliament to provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training.
  • Invest in the bus network to improve infrequent or non-existent services in the countryside, including more on-demand services.
  • Create new National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Devolve responsibility for corporation tax and consider the same for short-haul Air Passenger Duty for Northern Ireland
  • Review alcohol duty to ensure that the tax system is supporting British drink producers

The Plaid Cymru manifesto 2019 can be accessed at: https://www.partyof.wales/full_manifesto 

The Party are campaigning on a remain ticket which explicit implications for issues like migration policy.  Their tourism related policies include:

  • Free entry to museums
  • Create a National Digital Library for Wales
  • Work with National Museums Wales to create a dedicated National Gallery for Contemporary Art.
  • Make 1st March a national St David’s Day bank holiday
  • A range of proposals on education, training and improved apprenticeships
  • Investment in transport and digital infrastructure
  • Investment in a national electric vehicle charging network
  • Advance carbon neutral targets to 2030
  • Ensure that Wales transitions to a low carbon, nature friendly
    economy
  • Develop a package of environmental and fiscal reforms to aid the
    transition to a greener economy
  • Encourage private sector investment in new green technologies.

Tourism and Party Manifestos

Posted on

The Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties have published a manifesto this week containing a number of either tourism specific or tourism and visitor economy related issues.  The Conservative manifesto follows this weekend. Kurt Janson at the Tourism Alliance has kindly trawled through both and produced an initial summary, so you and I don’t have to.  There may be other issues that have not been highlighted and of course many of the other manifesto promises made will or could impact on tourism’s fortunes in the UK indirectly.

Kurt’s original message reads:

Here’s a link to the Labour manifesto that has just been launched:

https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Real-Change-Labour-Manifesto-2019.pdf

Key Tourism-related policies include:

  • A new £1 billion Cultural Capital Fund for libraries, museums and galleries.
  • Maintaining free entry to museums
  • Launching a Town of Culture competition in addition to the City of Culture
  • Banning zero-hour contracts and requiring cancelled shifts to be paid
  • Introducing four new bank holidays for the four patron saints (presumably this is only one new Bank holiday per country)
  • The immigration policy is vague – simply saying that they recognise the social and economic benefits that free movement has brought both in terms of EU citizens here and UK citizens abroad – and we will seek to protect those rights
  • Helping small businesses benefit from the Apprenticeship Levy by increasing the amount that can be transferred to non-levy-paying employers to 50% and introducing an online matching service
  • Review options for a land value tax on commercial landlords as an alternative to Business Rates.
  • Ending new sales of combustion engine cars by 2030
  • Increased aviation capacity, while not ruled out, would have to pass their tests on air quality, noise pollution, climate change obligations and countrywide benefits.
  • Creating new National Parks alongside a revised system of other protected area designations
  • Review border controls to make them more effective.
  • Review Business Rates including the option of a land value tax on commercial landlords as an alternative.
  • Listing pubs as Assets of Community Value so community groups have the first chance to buy local pubs when they are under threat.
  • Introducing a new national levy on second homes used as holiday homes
  • We will give councils new powers to regulate short-term lets through companies such as Airbnb
  • Reform taxi and private hire regulation
  • Free broadband access for all.

This is the link to Liberal Democrat manifesto:

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/57307/attachments/original/1574267252/Stop_Brexit_and_Build_a_Brighter_Future.pdf?1574267252

The key tourism-related policies include:

  • Support the tourist industry which is vital for many local economies by:

– Upgrading the status of tourism within government, by creating a Department of Digital, Culture, Media, Sport and Tourism, with a designated Minister of State for Tourism.

– Enabling local authorities to bring in tourist levies to fund local tourism infrastructure.

  • A programme of installing hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK – with a particular focus on connecting rural areas, ensuring all businesses have access to superfast broadband (30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload)
  • Develop the skilled workforce needed to support this growth by introducing a new two-year visa for students to work after graduation and a major expansion of high-quality apprenticeships including Higher Apprenticeships, backed up by new sector-led National Colleges.
  • Develop a national skills strategy for key sectors
  • Create creative enterprise zones to grow and regenerate the cultural output of areas across the UK.
  • Prioritise small and medium-sized businesses in the rollout of hyper-fast broadband
  • Create a new ‘start-up allowance’ to help those starting a new business with their living costs in the crucial first weeks of their business
  • Finance the transformation of town centres by expanding the Future High Streets Fund.
  • Replace Business Rates in England with a Commercial Landowner Levy based solely on the land value of commercial sites rather than their entire capital value
  • Setting a 20 per cent higher minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts at times of normal demand to compensate them for the uncertainty of fluctuating hours of work
  • Giving a right to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months for ‘zero hours’ and agency workers
  • Expand the apprenticeship levy into a wider ‘Skills and Training Levy’ to help prepare the UK’s workforce for the economic challenges ahead with 25 per cent of the funds raised by the levy going into a ‘Social Mobility Fund’ targeted at areas with the greatest skill needs.
  • Maintain free access to national museums and galleries
  • Completing the coastal path, exploring a ‘right to roam’ for waterways and creating a new designation of National Nature Parks.
  • Providing £2bn to ensure that all private hire vehicles and new buses licensed to operate in urban areas (I presume coaches too) are ultra-low-emission or zero-emission vehicles by 2025
  • Reduce the climate impact of flying by reforming the taxation of international flights to focus on those who fly the most, while reducing costs for those who take one or two international return fights per year, placing a moratorium on the development of new runways (net) in the UK, opposing any expansion of Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted and any new airport in the Thames Estuary, and introducing a zero-carbon fuels blending requirement for domestic fights
  • Allocate £4.5 billion restoring bus routes and add new routes where there is local need including supporting rural bus services and encouraging alternatives to conventional bus services where they are not viable
  • Allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500 per cent where homes are being bought as second homes
  • Launch a National Fund for Coastal Change, to enable local authorities to properly manage their changing coastlines.
  • Set up a £2 billion Rural Services Fund to enable the co-location of services in local hubs around existing local infrastructure.
  • Replace Tier 2 work visas with a more flexible merit-based system

Recent items in the news:

Posted on

1. Sharing accommodation tax relief. There has been some speculation in the broad sheet financial sections suggesting that government is concerned that the existing rent-a-room tax break is “costing too much”. The concern appears to be that the individual £7.5k tax free concession originally introduced, largely, to increase the availability of low-cost longer-term accommodation, which then also (intentionally?) energise the sharing short-term accommodation sector may have backfired, both in terms of the degree it has or hasn’t grown the longer term let accommodation base (lodging for want of a better description) and in a failure to generating a compensating tax take elsewhere in the short-term sharing accommodation sector (mainly from platforms like Airbnb).  Although the sharing accommodation sector has grown dramatically in the last decade, the total tax take on multimillion-pound sales remains surprisingly low.

If they wish to correct this Government has three basic choices: extract more tax from the small number of dominant, internationally based platforms, limit or remove the current individual tax concession, or a bit of both.

Last year there were moves afoot to restrict the tax concession to those who physically shared their own accommodation with their guests, thus denying access to the concession to occasional whole property lets and to the burgeoning regular whole property and multiple whole property businesses. Those proposed legislative changes apparently fell victim of last years political upheavals.

The speculation is that Government, or more particularly Treasury and therefore potentially government in general of whatever colour, are likely to continue to actively consider restricting the concessions.  Whether that is something for a new Government’s first budget or a subsequent budget remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the tourism industry and in our case destination management should take the opportunity that this pause creates, to take a view on whether the tax concession is needed at all?  And if it is, to whom and in what circumstances it should it apply? This is potentially a rather more complex question than it may at first appear. If you or the businesses you represent have any strong views on this please share them with me.

2. Other sharing accommodation issues. In the last fortnight there has been a rash of sharing accommodation related articles on issues from Liverpool City Council’s initial moves towards introducing “London style restrictions” on sharing accommodation provision in the City, to the initial finding of the Government’s consultation in Scotland on the introduction of regulatory controls. These new articles have been added to the ever growing library under the “Sharing economy menu & OTA” tab of British Destinations.net or direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/tourism-the-sharing-economy-and-its-wider-implications/

3. Package travel. Easy Jet have announced a relaunch of its package travel business, which has been on the go since 2011. The stated intent is to double its current packages sales. Industry opinion on the rational and the pros and cons of the plans are mixed.  Some have suggested that the move in the wake of the demise of Thomas Cook demonstrates that the package holiday is not dead, while other are far less convinced and point to wider issues in low cost flight industry.  Given that popular overseas package holidays are competing for the UK domestic holiday pound it is one of a number of major tourism sectors that we all need to watch and try as best we can to understand.

In addition the mixed reaction to parallel announcements on carbon offset are also of potential interest. There is going to be endless battles to be fought in the coming months and years over who is the greenest and cleanest. Easy Jets proposed actions are already being questioned.  Are they a genuinely positive move or just “green washing”:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business