ACT private rental visitor nights double in one year
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ACT private rental visitor nights double in one year

The number of nights visitors to Canberra stayed in private rental accommodation more than doubled in the year to June, rising to more than 500,000 for the first time.

The 108 per cent increase, from 276,000 last fiscal year to 568,000 in 2017-18, has prompted concerns it may now be time for the ACT government to develop an official position on companies like Airbnb.

ACT Tourism Industry Leaders' Forum chief David Marshall says it might be time for the ACT government to develop a policy on the operations of companies like Airbnb.

ACT Tourism Industry Leaders' Forum chief David Marshall says it might be time for the ACT government to develop a policy on the operations of companies like Airbnb.Credit:Melissa Adams

While some visitors may use other services for short-term private rentals, the online-only Airbnb dominates the global market.

While governments worldwide grapple with regulating such providers, the ACT government has to date refused to do so, despite being the first jurisdiction to regulate a similarly disruptive firm, Uber, in Australia.

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Instead, the territory government this year used the company's services to rent out heritage-listed homesteads in ACT national parks to visitors, in a move that gained almost $6000 in extra revenue for ACT Parks and Conservation.

The rise in visitors using private rentals in the ACT was revealed in Tourism Research Australia's latest national visitor survey data released on Wednesday, though the local rise was dwarfed by the national figure of 30 million-odd such nights in 2017-18.

The data showed the total number of visitor nights in the ACT rose from 6.7 million to 7.1 million, while overnight stays rose 2 per cent from 2.6 million to 2.7 million. Overall expenditure fell 1 per cent from $1.62 billion to $1.60 billion.

The report also showed a 20 per cent pick up in people visiting friends and relatives in the nation's capital last fiscal year, offsetting falling or fairly steady rates for business, holiday and 'other' category visitors.

The territory's rise in rental accommodation nights exceeded growth rates for that category in every other jurisdiction, and came as visitor nights in hotels and motels fell 13 per cent from 2.9 million.

The ACT's Tourism Industry Leaders' Forum chief David Marshall said the statistics were good news overall and he believed the rise in people visiting family and friends was due to Canberra being an inexpensive destination for families from the surrounding region.

He said that was good news particularly for clubs, petrol stations and restaurants outside the city, as he believed families were more likely to stay in the suburbs with relatives and spend money there rather than in Civic.

Mr Marshall also said despite the downturn in business visitor numbers, the business sector was quite cyclical and he expected the figures would pick up again next year ahead of the looming federal election.

On the rise in the use of private rental accommodation, he said companies like Airbnb were definitely having an impact in Canberra and it was becoming far more common to look at bed and breakfast arrangements, particularly for couples without children wanting to shop and go out in the city.

Mr Marshall said that, as far as he was aware, most if not all other Australian jurisdictions had or were developing policies to regulate companies like Airbnb, and he believed those companies' massive growth could create an opportunity for the ACT government to start thinking about how it would approach the issue.

He said the leaders' forum had not yet developed a policy on the matter, but given the growth in the sector, he would put the issue on the forum's agenda for the next meeting.

Despite Mr Marshall's comments, a spokeswoman for Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the government still held no formal position on Airbnb, but does keep a watching brief on sharing economy issues more generally.