Saturday 14 December, 2019

Jamaicans raking in Christmas cash with Airbnb

As the festive season kicks into gear, Jamaicans are listings an array of accommodations, from humble sofas to luxury houses, on Airbnb.

As the supply surges, so does the demand. If you are looking for a short term rental for the holidays for the period December 19 – December 30, most of the listings island-wide have already been booked.

As of today, less than 14% of local listings are available. According to local Airbnb hosts, they have been experiencing a mass increase in business since mid-October.

A retired banker turned Airbnb ‘super-host’ spoke to Loop News about how online marketplaces like Airbnb are facilitating the entrepreneurial ‘side-hustle’ activities that make up an essential part of the Jamaican ethos.

“We have a hustler culture and so Jamaicans naturally embrace tools that allow them to earn with very few strings attached,” he said.

The St. Mary-based Airbnb enthusiast noted that Jamaicans shy away from doing business in the traditional way due to the restrictiveness of the local business environment. He pointed to a 2014 study, which revealed that the informal economy- ‘the hustler economy’-   accounted for between 40 and 60 percent of the economy.

While the host noted that income earned through the online tool is now his primary source of income outside of his pension, he also added that it wasn’t all about “dollars and cents” but also that the sharing economy facilitated by Airbnb has bolstered social capital.

According to the ‘super-host’, the social capital impact of Airbnb has been tremendous as Airbnb has been encouraging the growth of the local tourism.

“In high season like Christmas, I usually get a lot of foreign tourist from all over, however, this Christmas, my whole house was booked by a family from St. Elizabeth, who are looking to explore, as they have never really experienced down this side (St Mary)," he said.

He observed that while the traditional tourism product often alienates locals due to its price point, Airbnb has facilitated and encouraged the growth of the local tourism product and is helping to level the playing field.

“I’ve met a lot of Jamaicans through Airbnb, who have come and stayed at my place and we have developed friendships and even business partnerships," he said.

“One woman who came to stay with me from Kingston grows coffee, another does swimwear and so they have supported my business and I have in turn supported them,” he added.

Having earned annually over one million Jamaican dollars through full-time hosting on Airbnb, the retired banker cautions that while the Christmas season income is looking “very merry” he is worried about the new year, as the Ministry of Tourism and Airbnb recently signed an MOU which he says could spell the end of what he calls a "good thing".

"The Jamaican government and Airbnb in talks can only mean one thing, taxes and possibly the slow decline of the sharing economy,” he said.

Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, announced in November that the ministry signed a major agreement with Airbnb expected to drive growth within the industry.

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